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Overseas Voting Initiative Policy Recommendations
Report Available Nov. 1

By Shawntaye Hopkins, CSG communications associate
For more than a century, voting has been complicated for military members and U.S. citizens living abroad. Modern reforms have improved the process, but significant challenges remain.
A working group, formed after The Council of State Governments partnered with the U.S. Department of Defense’s Federal Voting Assistance Program—or FVAP—in late 2013 to create the Overseas Voting Initiative, has produced a recommendations report designed to help policymakers and election officials better serve all voters, including military and overseas voters.
The CSG OVI Policy Working Group’s report titled, “Overseas Voting: Strategies for Engaging Every Voter,” will be available for download on Tuesday, Nov. 1. The group was composed of state and local election officials from across the United States, as well as election administration experts.
Members shared personal experiences and voter experiences “in order to learn from one another to put forth the most practical policy recommendations possible to help all of our election official colleagues across the nation and our collective military and overseas voters throughout the world,” said Lance Gough, executive director of the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners.
In-person meetings included presentations from academics, election data analysts, U.S. Election Assistance Commissioners, FVAP officials, and state and local election officials; the working group also held several teleconference meetings.
“This report highlights the group's recommendations for improvement in the UOCAVA (Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act) voting process and provides real-world examples that will serve as a template for state and local election officials throughout the country to follow,” FVAP Director Matt Boehmer said.  
Led by co-chairs Kim Wyman, Washington secretary of state, and David Stafford, supervisor of elections for Escambia County, Florida, the OVI Policy Working Group identified three primary areas where state and local governments can improve the UOCAVA voting experience: voter registration, voter communication and engagement with the U.S. military community.
Recommendations in the 13-page report include using plain language, creating more user-friendly electronic ballot return envelopes, implementing a standard validity period for the Federal Post Card Application and treating it as a permanent request for voter registration, and establishing a partnership between state and local election officials and local military installations. The report includes a short history and background of military and overseas voting in the United States as well as implementation strategies, statistics and analyses to support recommendations.
"Serving our military and overseas voters and making their voting experience as smooth as possible has always been of utmost importance to our team in Escambia County, Florida,” Stafford said. “It has been an honor to work with my distinguished colleagues across the country on the unique challenges faced by UOCAVA voters and the election officials who serve them, and to identify achievable ways to enhance those services and improve access to the ballot for all voters."
Wyman, who has experience voting from overseas, said she was honored to chair the bipartisan working group. She called the recommendations helpful, straightforward and easy to implement.
“The issue has particular resonance for me as one who voted from Germany when my Army Ranger husband was stationed there,” she said. “We need the best possible outreach and voter services, and these recommendations certainly will help achieve that.”
The OVI Policy Working Group’s recommendation effort is complete—although OVI will continue looking at other aspects of the overseas voting process—but the work has just begun for the CSG membership and the states.
“I urge that these recommendations be adopted everywhere,” Wyman said.
CSG OVI Director Kamanzi Kalisa said most of the recommendations do not require legislation and, therefore, can be implemented immediately by election officials.
“Please share this report with your legislators and other stakeholders who are focused on military and civilian overseas voters and ask them to review and support its commonsense recommendations,” Kalisa said.
Visit http://www.csg.org/ovi/ to download the report on Nov. 1.