WASHINGTON, June 5, 2013 – The Federal Voting Assistance Program exists to help military and overseas citizen voters overcome unique obstacles they may face, the program’s acting director told the U.S. Civil Rights Commission.
Matt Boehmer said that while states and localities remain in charge of administering elections, FVAP promotes awareness of upcoming elections with a focus on service members’ and overseas U.S. citizens’ right to vote using the absentee ballot, and eliminating barriers for those who chose to exercise their voting rights.
“As Congress and courts have repeatedly affirmed, voting is an individual’s most fundamental political right,” he said.
Traditionally, he added, voting is an interaction between individual citizens who receive, mark and cast a ballot in a state or local government that distributes, collects and counts the ballots, and Congress created a set of protections to untangle voting difficulties absent military members and U.S. citizens experience.
The recently amended Military Overseas Voter Empowerment Act, known as the MOVE Act, ensures military members and overseas citizens have ample time to receive, vote and return their absentee ballots, Boehmer said. Specifically, states must send a blank ballot to voters at least 45 days before every federal election and the law allows them to offer that blank ballot electronically.
“Military members are provided the opportunity to apply for voter registration or request an absentee ballot at each transition point in their military careers,” Boehmer said. Defense Department guidance requires voting assistance to be included in administrative in- and out-processing activities of both reporting and detaching personnel, and service members transitioning out of the military are advised to notify their local election official of their change in status, he added.
Voters seeking assistance will find myriad resources, including a professional call center, well-trained voting assistance officers and an information-rich portal featuring intuitive, automated tools to assist with voter registration completion and ballot application forms, Boehmer said.
“During the 2012 election, more than 880,000 voters used the site to download federal postcard applications, which [are] used for simultaneous voter registration as well as absentee ballot requests,” he told the commission. “All of these resources are continually updated to reflect state-specific absentee voting rules and local election contact information.”
To assist service members during preparation for the 2012 election, Boehmer noted, the Federal Voting Assistance Program conducted in-person voting and voting assistance officer training at 81 locations worldwide, in addition to developing self-paced online training resources.
In collaboration with the Office of Wounded Warrior Care and Transition Policy and the U.S. Election Assistance Commission, FVAP officials also developed a specialized guide and checklist to address the voting-related needs of military members injured in combat.
During 2012, FVAP’s outreach included 18.4 million emails reminding service members to register to vote and to request their absentee ballot, Boehmer said.
With some 20 million page views in 2012 and an ever-growing presence on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, the voting assistance program’s efforts target 18-to-24-year-old voters who make up a large portion of the military, and like their general population counterparts, have less experience and familiarity with the voting process, Boehmer explained.
In addition to assisting voters directly and supporting military services, FVAP works with states and local election administrators to support their efforts to improve services for absentee military and overseas voters. “Since 2009, more than 40 state legislatures have enacted reforms to their state election code, making the absentee process simpler and more accessible to voters,” he said. And in the 2012 election, all 50 states emailed blank absentee ballots to military and overseas voters, compared to only 13 in the 2008 election, he noted.
Ultimately, Boehmer said, voting is fundamentally an individual’s choice and a personal responsibility.
“But for those members of the uniformed services, their families, and our U.S. citizens living overseas who want to vote, I firmly believe that the voting resources have never been better.”