EAC issues report on U.S. overseas voting for 2006

Election officials need to do a better job of educating overseas citizens of their rights to vote in federal elections and improve the delivery of ballots to those voters, the Election Assistance Commission concluded after reviewing results of overseas voting in last year's elections.

According to a Government Accountability Office report cited by the EAC, there are about 6 million overseas citizens and uniformed service members and their family either abroad or away from home domestically and eligible to vote. But state and local election officials reported that only about 992,000 absentee ballots were requested by this group in 2006, and only slightly more than 330,000 of these were cast or counted.

The Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Voting Act ensures that citizens away from home can register to vote and receive ballots in U.S. elections. EAC is required under the Help America Vote Act to report to Congress on performance of UOCVA. The 2006 report was released Monday.

The most common reason for requested ballots not being cast, 70 percent, was that mailed ballots were returned as undeliverable.

The information gathered by EAC is not complete, however, because many states and local jurisdictions did not track the data required under HAVA. Of 3,123 jurisdictions, only 54 percent provided information on the number of domestic military absentee ballots cast or counted, and 62 percent reported on the number of overseas military absentee ballots. EAC acknowledged responsibility for some of the problems in gathering data.

'Low response rates may also be attributed to EAC's online survey collection instrument, which many states found difficult to use and time consuming,' the commission said.

On the positive side, an EAC survey of absentee voters from four states (Florida, Illinois, Montana and South Carolina) showed that new programs to enable registration, ballot request and voting electronically ' either by e-mail or fax ' seem to work well.

'The numbers are small but the satisfaction levels are high with electronic transmission of materials,' EAC said.

Just eight percent of the voters in the sample interviewed faxed or e-mailed registration or ballot requests, four percent received the material by fax or e-mail, and three percent returned them the same way. But the overall satisfaction rate among those voters was 77 percent and 95 percent said they would use that method again.

The commission will develop a set of best practices based on the data it collected, but offered a number of immediate recommendations to improve the voting process for uniformed and overseas voters:
  • Improve efforts to collect information required by HAVA.
  • Increase efforts to make overseas voters aware of their right to vote.
  • Work with the Defense Department and the Federal Voting Assistance Program to develop best practices and programs to encourage participation by overseas voters.
  • Introduce new technologies where needed and change laws when necessary to allow their use to overcome current barriers faced by overseas voters.
  • Create a mechanism by which a military transfer generates a move notice to the voter's local registrar.

About the Author

William Jackson is a Maryland-based freelance writer.

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