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CLOVE INITIATIVE - BACKGROUNDER
Clear Language for Overseas Voter Enfranchisement (CLOVE)

In response to the recent events, which profoundly affect the overseas voter community, a coalition of overseas organizations will announce a new initiative focused on Clear Language for Overseas Voter Enfranchisement (CLOVE Initiative).

The goal of CLOVE will be to ensure that the printed and online documents used in the voting process by overseas citizens are implemented with plain language forms and instructions that support voter enfranchisement.
 
THE ISSUE
The Federal Post Card Application (FPCA) is the form used by overseas Americans to register to vote and/or request ballots. Recent changes to the FPCA constitute one example of the importance of plain language in voting forms.

In 2011, the Federal Voting Assistance Program (FVAP) began the process to redesign the FPCA form.  The process lasted from March 2011 to October 2011. The new FPCA Standard Form 76 (Rev.08-2011) was operational and available beginning November 1, 2011.

The primary concern is the following change. Block I of the previous FPCA Standard Form 76 (Rev.10-2005) presented a simple list of options to check when identifying your voter status:
Block 1 Text 2005
Block I, renamed “Classification”, on the new FPCA Standard Form 76 (Rev.08-2011) requires the overseas citizen voters to make a declaration:
Block 1 Text 2011

WHY IS THIS A PROBLEM?
The Block I change on the FPCA form results in numerous serious voter problems:

  1. It decides for the voter that they are requesting ballots for all elections in which they are eligible. This may not be the case. The voter may be using the form to request ballots only for the next upcoming General Election.
  2. It forces the voter to make a declaration of their “intent” to return or not to return to the U.S. This is an emotionally charged question to which many individuals simply do not know the answer, or do not feel it is the U.S. government's business to know.
  3. It presents a third option, which refers voters to consult a Voting Assistance Guide that they very likely would not have at hand, and that is intended as a support tool for trained Voting Assistance Officers, not civilian voters.
  4. Overseas citizens may fear that they are unintentionally exposing themselves to State tax liability, as some States list voting in State elections as a factor in determining taxable residency, even in the absence of physical presence.
  5. Voters may think that selecting "I am a U.S. citizen residing outside the U.S. and I do not intend to return" will be a perceived as a step towards renunciation of citizenship.

Most people will balk at filling out a form which forces them to make a declarative statement that they are unsure about – especially one so serious that they must sign under the penalty of perjury.  It is likely that overseas voters who encounter it will be unsure of the implications, and perhaps discouraged to vote.

The voter can feel uneasy or even intimidated by being forced to choose between "intend to return" and "do not intend" to return.  For most overseas citizens, "do not intend at the present time" is the more accurate answer.  But the present formulation forces the voter to make a stark choice, which can easily be interpreted as a definitive statement for the future.  

Moreover the voter is then required at the end of this form to affirm under the penalty of perjury that this information is true and complete to the best of their knowledge.  Thus the voter is forced to answer an ambiguous question, which could be variously interpreted and subject themselves to a possible charge of perjury.

A voter faced with this question who has not decided their intent to return will wonder what the implications are of indicating their intent on a government form, and will very likely not continue further.

Citizens overseas, who may be especially vulnerable to disenfranchisement, will consequently be disinclined to provide information such as this on a voting form.  In their confusion and reluctance to sign a form, many voters may throw their hands in the air and walk-away.


WHAT DO THE VOTERS SAY?
CLOVE’s first action is a survey on the on the new FPCA form. Overseas voters are encouraged to complete and promote the CLOVE survey at this link:

http://www.zoomerang.com/Survey/WEB22FH9LM2E5J

Following is a selection of typical comments that have been entered into the open comments box of the survey:

  • “I have no idea how to answer the 'Classification'. I do not know whether I will return. I have no defined plan either way. This question prevents me from moving ahead on the form! I don't know the implications of any of these choices either. It is impossible to know what the final choice 'otherwise granted ... under State law' means. Why no clear instructions?”
  • “I am not sure what the fifth choice in the classification section means. Also, 'do not intend to return' seems so final. I do not want to check that box, even it is possibly true.”
  • “I would add 'I intend to return to the US someday.'"
  • “I liked the old form '... residing outside the U.S. indefinitely' (vs. and 'I do not intend to return') The new classification '... otherwise granted military/overseas voting rights under State Law...') is confusing - no instructions on the FPCA and no info in the VAG. As to voting address and voter's oath, there needs to be a voter classification for those who have never resided in the U.S. and who have voting rights if their eligible–to-vote parents last resided in one of the currently 23 states that allow those who have never resided in the U.S. to vote from their parent's voting jurisdiction.”

WHERE TO GO TO REGISTER
Overseas Vote Foundation will provide only the safe version of the FPCA form (Standard Form 76 Rev.10-2005) throughout the 2012 General Election year. Voters can continue to register and request their ballots on all OVF websites without forced declarations.

CLOVE Initiative Members include:

To join the CLOVE initiative, please contact: CLOVEinitiative@googlemail.com

Press Contact: +1(202) 470 2480; CLOVEinitiative@googlemail.com