By Amaani Lyle
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Sept. 5, 2012 – With Election Day about two months away, absentee military and overseas citizen voters can enjoy a streamlined process to register, obtain a ballot and exercise their right to vote, a Federal Voting Assistance Program official said in a Pentagon news conference today.
Pam Mitchell, the program’s acting director, outlined new outreach initiatives designed to make voting assistance more innovative and user-friendly than ever before, with an emphasis on engaging junior military personnel, the largest segment of the Defense Department population.
“We firmly believe that voting assistance for our absentee voters is absolutely the best that it’s ever been,” Mitchell said. “There are a lot of tools in our arsenal to help those voters both register, get an absentee ballot and to exercise their right to vote.”
Mitchell explained that FVAP offers a variety of tools through its “online wizard,” which among other features, can even help users ready ballot envelopes for posting by printing the correct address on them.
FVAP has customized its tools, Mitchell said, focusing on the 18-to-25-year-old demographic, given their familiarity and general preference for gleaning information from the Internet and communicating through social media sites such as Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.
“We have a mobile website we just unveiled last week so that using a smartphone or a tablet from anywhere you may be, you can obtain access to our information and our tools,” Mitchell said.
In January, Mitchell said, officials also took to email accounts to broaden outreach. “We use email blasts to every member within a dot-mil email address to remind them how they can register to vote and that it’s time to vote,” Mitchell said.
Outside of the electronic domain, FVAP maintains a call center that operates five days a week from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. EDT and can be used by voters worldwide to get help on how to file an absentee ballot.
For in-person interaction, Mitchell said, voting assistance officers and installation voter assistance offices remain available as prescribed by the 2009 Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment Act. She acknowledged findings in a recently released DOD Inspector General report that indicated difficulties in reaching a number of IVA offices based on dated contact information.
“In a military environment, things change,” Mitchell said, citing personnel movements and joint basing as factors. “We … agree with the IG that the most important thing we can do is to find the most effective way to maintain assistance for all of our absentee voters, and we are absolutely committed [to that].” In the IG report, FVAP officials said investing in intuitive, easy-to-use Web-based tools, supplemented by well-trained unit voting assistance officers — rather than installation voter assistance offices — could substantially reduce cost and improve voting assistance.
“By law, all states must offer electronic delivery of the ballot, but the voter, when applying for the ballot, can elect to receive it that way or may elect to receive it in the mail,” Mitchell said. “Over the last six months, we spent a lot of time reaching out to every single one of the 221 installation voting offices. We’re confident that the information on our website today is accurate and has the most up-to-date contact [information].”
Between now and the election, Mitchell said, FVAP officials will continue to make weekly calls to each of the installation voter assistance offices to ensure they are accurately able to capture changes that may occur.
“Our goal is to make sure that anyone who wants to vote has the resources and tools they need from anywhere in the world to successfully exercise that right,” Mitchell said.
Active-duty members of the armed forces, Merchant Marine, Public Health Service, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, their family members and U.S. citizens who are living outside the United States for work, school or other reasons can use FVAP.