Legislation introduced to revamp FVAP

The Defense Department official responsible for the Federal Voting Assistance Program received a sharp rebuke from Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.), who said money appropriated to assist overseas voters in casting ballots has been wasted on an automated system that does not deliver adequate services to uniformed and civilian citizens living abroad.

'The FVAP has a track record in previous election cycles of spending hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars with dismal results,' Maloney wrote Oct. 14 in a letter to Michael Dominguez, undersecretary of Defense for personnel and readiness. 'I am disturbed you have chosen to use funding from the taxpayers so unwisely.'

Maloney said the Military Voter Registration System established by FVAP was late coming online and is inferior to services offered on a site developed by the Overseas Vote Foundation.

Earlier this month, Maloney and Rep. Michael Honda (D-Calif.) introduced a bill to reform FVAP by establishing an oversight board and requiring that the program's administrator have experience in election administration.

FVAP was established under the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act (UOCAVA) to help active-duty military personnel and their families living away from home and civilians living abroad register to vote and request and cast absentee ballots. According to a number of studies by DOD's inspector general, the program has had limited success. Few military service members appeared to be aware of the program in the 2004 and 2006 election cycles, and few received Federal Post Card Applications for absentee ballots by a DOD deadline in 2006.

Electronic systems appear to have fared no better. The Interim Voting Assistance System cost more than $500,000 in 2004, but only 17 voters participated, Maloney said. In 2006, FVAP spent $1.1 million on the Integrated Voting Assistance System, which produced only eight votes.

Establishing a single resource for voter registration and absentee ballot requests is difficult because state and local officials administer those functions, and the jurisdictions have different requirements. Money was appropriated in fiscal 2007 for a Military Voter Registration System, which was supposed to be operational in December 2007. It was not launched until August 2008.

In an Aug. 11 letter to Maloney, Dominguez wrote: 'It was necessary to expand the capabilities of the envisioned system to allow for the transmittal of the ballot request and blank absentee ballot. Thus, the system resulting from the contract award delivers the right capability to all UOCAVA citizens who will use the system.'

The FVAP site offers tools so citizens can register to vote and request absentee ballots or federal write-in absentee ballots to be used as a backup when state ballots cannot be obtained in time. The site also has information on where to send applications and ballots.

'The department anticipates that the absentee registration and blank ballot delivery system resulting from this contract augments the department's and states' existing procedures to ensure that all UOCAVA citizens can register and request absentee ballots in a timely fashion,' Dominguez wrote in his letter. 'The initial feedback we have received after implementation is that the system is easy to use and should greatly assist our military and overseas voters in the registration and absentee ballot request process.'

Maloney disagreed. 'In testing, the FVAP automatic tool has not been successful in generating anything except several system crashes,' she wrote.

She complained that the FVAP site requires a lengthy process to set up an account that includes two confirmation e-mail messages, provides a static form that is prone to errors and offers instructions that are not complete for all states. Users must look up mailing addresses for their requests.

Maloney said her preference for the UOCAVA appropriation would have been to allow the Overseas Voting Foundation to apply to use the funds to add to the suite of online tools it already has. Those tools include registration and ballot requests, voter help desks, directories listing election officials, state-specific voter information, federal write-in absentee ballots, voter accounts, and FedEx shipping for absentee ballots for free or at discounted rates in 89 countries.

The foundation's system is a guided process that provides tailored information based on the user's home address and the laws and regulations of his or her voting jurisdiction.

'The usability advantage of the OVF program is vast,' Maloney wrote.

The Maloney-Honda bill ' Fixing the Federal Voting Assistance Program Act (H.R. 7265) ' was referred to the House Administration and Rules committees and is unlikely to see action this year. Its primary requirements are that the FVAP administrator be an experienced in administering elections and receive Senate approval. It would also establish a five-member bipartisan board to oversee FVAP actions and report annually to Congress.

About the Author

William Jackson is a Maryland-based freelance writer.


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