Helping to advance the US Military and Overseas Voting process since 2015

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As I wrote at the end of last year, one of my goals for 2024 is to communicate more about the many interesting and innovative programs in which The Turnout is involved. Today, I’m focusing on military and overseas voting. The Turnout works with The Council of State Governments (CSG) on their collaborative effort with the US Department of Defense Federal Voting Assistance Program (FVAP) called the Overseas Voting Initiative (OVI). Since FVAP’s mission is to ensure US Service members, their eligible family members, and overseas citizens are aware of their right to vote—and have the tools and resources to successfully do so—the OVI gives them a unique perspective as to how state and local elections officials can help FVAP succeed.

Members of the military serving abroad and other US citizens residing overseas face unique challenges when trying to obtain and cast their ballots in US elections. Through the OVI, a working group of election officials research policies and technologies that would ensure election access for these voters. The working group examines the different approaches states and local jurisdictions have implemented and identifies what areas need further research to ensure citizens abroad can vote.

The Turnout has supported the OVI since 2015. The research reports and our work in the area of administrative data and data standardization are some of my personal favorite projects due to their impact in the space. In addition to the research reports, we’ve also published several articles and spotlights on state and local election officials. OVI team members developed articles on topics related to electronic delivery and return of ballots, ballot duplication, and faxing.

We’re especially proud to have developed the EAVS Section B Data Standard (ESB Data Standard), which is a data standard for the Election Administration and Voting Survey (EAVS) Section B data. The Section B data fields correspond to the segments in the UOCAVA voting process: establishing the UOCAVA status of the voter, transmitting a blank ballot, and receiving a marked ballot. This standard is a way to analyze UOCAVA data across state lines to help FVAP, as well as state and local election officials, better support UOCAVA voters. The most powerful part of this standard is that it offers election officials a look at a possible future for post-election reporting. Why collect certain data through surveys when a simple database export—that can be largely validated for syntactic and semantic correctness—could provide better data, more reflective of reality on the ground, and ultimately save election officials time and effort? My hope is that FVAP and the Election Assistance Commission, who administers the EAVS, can use standards like these to reduce the post-election reporting burden on election officials.

And last, but certainly not least, I want to highlight another UOCAVA effort The Turnout undertook, this one for the Democracy Fund, and with collaborators R. Michael Alvarez, PhD and Magenta Sage Strategies. Our team researched methods of electronic ballot return by UOCAVA voters. While there is no way to fully secure any form of electronic ballot return, electronic ballot return is still provided to some UOCAVA voters to ensure they can participate. For that reason, we provided a set of technical recommendations for UOCAVA electronic ballot return to reduce some of the risks associated with existing methods of electronic blank ballot delivery and voted electronic ballot return.

We’re looking ahead to The Turnout’s continuing work to aid UOCAVA voters around the world and the election officials who serve them.

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