IMPLEMENTING THE MOVE ACT
As I mentioned earlier, late last year President Obama signed into law the MOVE Act (Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment Act). Soon, 33 states will be using some form of Internet voting for their voters overseas, or UOCAVA voters (named after the 1986 Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act).
Voters overseas, especially in the military, have been unduly burdened by the 19th Century process they have had to follow to vote absentee. They had to snail mail a request for an absentee ballot, wait for it to arrive, and then snail mail back the voted ballot. The process could take so long that ballots often came back to the county too late to be counted.
As much as a fifth of the ballots sent to the overseas voters are lost either in the US mail or some foreign postal service.
Then there were more problems with technicalities, errors in the registration roles which had to be corrected over the mail, unsigned or illegible signatures on the voted ballot, or messy marks, etc. In some places, absentee ballots are routinely ignored, and often lost.
Some states required that ballots be notarized, which burdened the voter and added more technicalities.
In May, the Senate Rules Committee released a study showing that as many as 25% of troops stationed overseas went uncounted in 2008.
In a 2009 report, the Pew Center on the States found that more than one-third of states did not provide military voters stationed abroad with enough time to vote.
The MOVE Act attempts to remedy some of these problems by requiring the states to cut out the notary requirement (and other picky things like paper size for absentee voting requests), and send out ballots at least 45 days before an election. The Act also requires states to send the ballots, and voter information generally, via electronic means, such as fax or email (unless snail mail is requested). The Act allows, but does not require, voted ballots to be returned by fax, email, or on a website.
Of course, the MOVE Act only applies to the way states facilitate voting in federal elections. The states are free to stay in the 19th Century in their manner of conducting state and local elections. However, few states are going to do that. Many have already changed the way their overseas voters can vote in state and local elections simply by including these elections in their efforts to comply with MOVE.
This July, the ULC (the Uniform Law Commission, an advisory organization of judges, lawyers, and law-makers) voted to approve the MOVE Act as model legislation for the states to follow to facilitate overseas voting.
Also this July, NASS (the National Association of Secretaries of State) adopted a resolution endorsing the provisions and aims of MOVE, stating specifically that “NASS supports the use of new and emerging technologies that facilitate voting by military and overseas citizens …”
One noteworthy item here is that neither ULC, nor NASS, nor MOVE have required, or even recommended, any sort of paper record of casted votes. Having heard and considered all the arguments pro and con, they all have concluded that the electronic technology, including the security technology, can be relied upon to deliver accurate and honest election results. The facts support their conclusion. For example, in 2008 at least 26 states allowed overseas voters to return their voted ballots electronically, mostly by fax. Hall and Alvarez, two political scientists who study e-voting issues, report that there “have not been any allegations of widespread fraud or irregularities associated with faxed UOCAVA ballots …” Electronic Elections, page 87.
Finally, the 45 day requirement is proving difficult for some states to comply with. Forty-five days before the Nov 2d election falls on Sept 18th. So election officials who cannot make that date are applying for hardship waivers this month. Fox “news” carried a story chiding DoJ officials for not holding these states to the letter of the law by threatening to litigate against states using frivolous excuses.
The Washington Times jumped into the fray with an editorial alleging that “Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. is more interested in helping felons vote than in helping the military to vote.” Evidence? The DoJ website doesn’t have the MOVE Act information displayed yet, but has a lot of information about the rights of felons to vote.
Such is the politics of UOCAVA voting.
So, the implementation of the MOVE Act in the states is still a work in progress. Each state has its own story about how it handles its UOCAVA voters, and about how it will comply with the new federal law. BTW the law does appropriate funds for the states to use in their compliance efforts, and they can also use HAVA funds (the Help America Vote Act of 2002).
If there are any local election officials, or employees of state secretaries of state, out there, how about sharing stories regarding your office’s experiences?