Elections:

Voting Assistance to Military and Overseas Citizens Should Be Improved

GAO-01-1026: Published: Sep 4, 2001. Publicly Released: Sep 28, 2001.

Additional Materials:

Contact:

Derek B. Stewart
(202) 512-5559
contact@gao.gov

 

Office of Public Affairs
(202) 512-4800
youngc1@gao.gov

The narrow margin of victory in the 2000 presidential election aroused concern about the reliability of voting machines; the training of polling place workers; and the extent to which local jurisdictions accepted ballots from members of the military, their dependents, or citizens living abroad. The Federal Voting Assistance program developed several useful tools for voters and Voting Assistance Officers, but many potential voters GAO spoke to were unaware of them. Some installations did not meet the Department of Defense (DOD) and service requirements because they provided insufficient numbers of trained Voting Assistance Officers, voter training, and voting materials. Overseas citizens and federal employees said that the State Department provided useful information. However, many military and overseas voters believe that challenges remain, such as understanding and complying with state requirements and local procedures for absentee voting. Security and privacy issues also present challenges to widespread use of the Internet for voting. Information on the precise number of military and overseas absentee votes that local jurisdictions disqualified nationwide in the 2000 general election and the reasons for disqualification are not readily available. However, GAO's national telephone survey found that almost two-thirds of the disqualified absentee ballots were rejected because they arrived too late to be counted or the envelope or form accompanying the ballot was not completed properly.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The State Department's Chief Voting Action Officer has taken several actions to improve oversight of the Voting Assistance Program. First, he has developed an e-mail list of voting officers and voting assistants at each overseas post to improve communications. E-mail messages provided by the Chief Voting Action Officer demonstrates that he e-mails the voting assistance officers frequently with suggestions and guidance to ensure that each post understands the voting program, has adequate supplies, and conducts outreach to voters. Secondly, he has asked posts to include voting assistance and voter outreach in their mission and performance plans, and requires that the post voting assistance officer provide an after-election report that includes an assessment of voter outreach and education.

    Recommendation: To improve embassies' and consulates' abilities to provide assistance to overseas citizens in voting absentee, the Secretary of State should direct the Assistant Secretary of State for Consular Affairs to take a more active role in overseeing the program by establishing processes for improving oversight and consistency across embassies and consulates including: (1) reminding posts more frequently of Foreign Affairs Manual and related guidance for ordering supplies and using the military postal system and the diplomatic pouch, (2) providing information and resources for training, and (3) requiring that posts provide lessons learned after every presidential election.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The FVAP is working with Defense Manpower Data Center and a contractor to revise the survey instrument to include questions about why absentee ballots are rejected by the voting jurisdictions. Revised methodology for the Post-Election Voting Survey of Local Election Officials now includes a stratified sample of the 50 largest jurisdictions in each state and DC, the next 449 largest jurisdictions in the US, and a random sample of jurisdictions from the rest of the US. Survey includes questions on the number of absentee ballots not counted and reasons why, and selected jurisdictions were given an advance copy of the survey to provide them an opportunity to collect the required data as the year progressed. Data will be analyzed after the 2004 Presidential election and will provide nationally projectable data regarding the number of absentee ballots disqualified and the reasons for disqualification.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Defense should direct the Director of the Federal Voting Assistance Program (FVAP) to develop a methodology, in conjunction with states and local jurisdictions, to gather nationally projectable data on disqualified military and overseas absentee ballots and reasons for disqualification. FVAP should do this by modifying its quadrennial survey of local election officials, analyzing the data, and publishing this analysis in its quadrennial election report to Congress. As part of this methodology, FVAP should select a random sample of jurisdictions to participate in the survey for an extended period, such as 12 years. FVAP should work with state and local election officials before the next election so respondent counties can provide input to redesign the survey and establish the necessary means for tracking data.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Federal Voting Assistance Program (FVAP) Voting Action Plan for 2002-2003 requires that the Director of FVAP actively collect and share best practices identified by the services and State voting assistance programs. Currently, the Director of FVAP is working with others in DOD to implement a best practices system, and a best practices system should be in place for the 2004 election. FVAP's after action report includes a description of the best practices that have been identified as improving Service Voting Action Programs. The best practices collected are published through the FVAP website and other existing media, such as the voting Information News newsletter and voting workshops.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Defense should direct the Director of the Federal Voting Assistance Program to actively collect and share best practices identified by service and State Department voting assistance programs.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  4. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Revised DOD guidance, which was issued in June 2002, requires that the heads of DOD components establish the ratio or maximum number of voters that can be represented by a Voting Assistance officer. Currently, the Air Force is the only service that has included a ratio in its guidance or voting action plan.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Defense should direct the Director of the Federal Voting Assistance Program to consult with the services and revise DOD Directive 1000.4 to establish recommended ratios of Voting Assistance Officers to population served.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  5. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: DOD issued its revised guidance on the FVAP in June 2002; however, it did not implement this recommendation in the revised guidance. Specifically, the revised directive does not require that the Senior Service Voting Representative monitor the installations voting assistance programs or periodically brief the FVAP. Furthermore, it does not require that the Senior Service Voting Representative provide a report on the services' efforts to meet the requirements in the DOD directive by June 30th of odd-numbered years.

    Recommendation: To increase the effectiveness of the DOD's voting education and assistance programs for military and overseas voters, the Secretary of Defense should direct the military service secretaries to require that the Senior Service Voting Representatives monitor installations' voting assistance programs, including the level of command support, and periodically provide briefings to the Federal Voting Assistance Program Office that detail the services' efforts to meet the requirements outlined in the DOD directive and submit a final report by June 30th of odd-numbered years.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  6. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOD concurred with the recommendation, and revised its guidance to emphasize the services' responsibilities to monitor and oversee their voting assistance program. DOD's revised instruction was effective June 3, 2002. However, not all of the services have revised their guidance to reflect the changes in the revised DOD Instruction. DOD said the FVAP would ensure that services' 2002-2003 Voting Action Plans comply with the revised guidance. All services have implemented regulations that specify that trained Voting Assistance Officers should be appointed, service Inspectors General should review voting assistance programs, and services should clearly establish who is responsible for providing voting material to installations and Voting Assistance officers.

    Recommendation: To increase the effectiveness of the DOD's voting education and assistance programs for military and overseas voters, the Secretary of Defense should direct the military service secretaries to develop voting assistance directives that fully reflect the requirements of DOD Directive 1000.4. Specifically, the services' guidance should specify that trained installation and unit Voting Assistance Officers should be appointed, that service Inspectors General review the voting assistance program during inspections, that instruction on the absentee ballot process be provided to all servicemembers, and that the voting assistance program undergo continuous evaluation. In addition, the services should clarify their guidance to clearly establish who is responsible for providing voting material to installations and Voting Assistance Officers. The services should complete modifications to their guidance by the end of 2001.

    Agency Affected: Department of State

  7. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The State Department has initiated activities to strengthen its voting assistance program, including instituting more systematic collection and distribution of best practices. For example, the State Department's Chief Voting Action periodically reminds the voting assistance officers to share best practices, and posts these on the Consular Affairs website. Also, the after-election lessons learned report will include an assessment of outreach efforts and best practices. To improve coordination with FVAP, the State Voting Action Officer and FVAP have monthly conference calls to coordinate and troubleshoot. Additionally, the State Department worked with the FVAP to establish a new web address when voting assistance officers at some posts found they could not access the .mil website.

    Recommendation: To improve embassies' and consulates' abilities to provide assistance to overseas citizens in voting absentee, the Secretary of State direct the Assistant Secretary of State for Consular Affairs to take a more active role in overseeing the program by establishing initiatives to improve outreach, including: (1) identifying "best practices" in a forum accessible to embassies and consulates such as the Consular Affairs web site and (2) improving coordination with the Federal Voting Assistance Program to expand the dissemination of voting information.

    Agency Affected: Department of State

 

Explore the full database of GAO's Open Recommendations »

Sep 26, 2014

Sep 25, 2014

Sep 19, 2014

Sep 18, 2014

Sep 12, 2014

Sep 10, 2014

Aug 25, 2014

Looking for more? Browse all our products here