By Army Sgt. 1st Class Tyrone C. Marshall Jr.
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Jan. 29, 2014 – A multiagency effort is underway to modernize the mail delivery system to improve delivery of election materials to military and overseas voters, the director of the Federal Voting Assistance Program said here today.
Matt Boehmer testified before the Senate Rules and Administration Committee on how the Defense Department is improving ballot accessibility.
“The Military Postal Service Agency is serving as the lead agency in an effort with the Department of State and the United States Postal Service to lead an effort to modernize military mail delivery,” he said. Boehmer said the department recognized the time required to redirect mail once it has arrived overseas hinders the ability to cast an absentee ballot.
“The system will redirect election material to military and diplomatic addresses similar to how the civilian change-of-address system works,” he said, noting it should be available in October.
Boehmer noted Congress and the judicial system repeatedly have affirmed that voting is a citizen’s most fundamental right. “The Federal Voting Assistance Program is committed to two voting assistance tenets: promoting the awareness of the right to vote, and eliminating barrier for those who choose to exercise that right,” he said.
“Last year, FVAP and the Defense Department exemplified this commitment by advancing three major initiatives, Boehmer said: creating a robust information portal, implementing greater voter assistance capabilities and starting work on increasing mail delivery efficiency.
FVAP recently optimized its website, the director said, by re-organizing content to enhance the user experience and implementing a section of the portal to track performance metrics for voting assistance officers. Updated online training will be released in the early spring, he added.
To improve voting assistance capabilities, Boehmer said, FVAP created a suite of materials in 2013 to provide absentee voters with specific information.
Boehmer also discussed a bill before Congress to amend the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act to improve ballot accessibility, among other purposes, and said the Defense Department supports the bill’s initiatives. “However, we’d like to work with the committee to clarify some of the technical requirements to make sure that we are success in meeting the intent of the bill,” he added.
FVAP is already working to address some of the initiatives listed in the bill, Boehmer said. “We currently link voters to state systems where they’re available,” he noted.
Officials are working with an internal Defense Department system to prompt service members updating their address to complete a new federal post card application upon every address update. Officials also are capable and willing to create annual training by the 2016 general election for our active duty military members, he said. It would lead them to the FVAP website to complete a new federal post card application or to decline assistance.
Boehmer said language in the bill “that requires DOD to send an electronic transmission of a completed FPCA to the appropriate state and election officials is a concern. The way the bill is written, he explained, it appears to focus entirely on an electronic process that would prove costly and could be incompatible with election rules in the 55 U.S. states and territories.
“Removing this requirement would remedy the department’s concern with this section,” Boehmer said, “and recognize the role of states to field their own systems and offer electronic voter registration.”
Boehmer expressed his gratitude to the committee for its desire to help in improving the voting process.
“We appreciate the Congress’ ongoing interest in improving military voting,” he said.