Without a doubt, the news story of 2009 as regards military and overseas voting was the enactment of the Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment (MOVE) Act, a law that not only includes several specific changes to increase enfranchisement of overseas and military voters but signaled a change in the legislative attitude on this issue.

As one voting rights newsletter put it, all of a sudden, overseas voters are “in”.

 The four main planks in MOVE are:

  • elimination of notarization requirements for overseas ballots in the states that still require this, as well as other registration requirements imposed specifically on UOCAVA voters.
  • all states must make voter registration and absentee ballot applications available electronically, as well as General Election information. MOVE also requires that all states make a Federal Write-In Absentee Ballot, matching the design and functionality launched last year by Overseas Vote Foundation, available online for when official ballots don’t arrive in time.
  •  all overseas and military voters must re-register for every election cycle, instead of every two election cycles.
  • all states must plan, as of this year, for a 45-day window for the ballot "round-trip".

This last element is already causing headaches for election officials. The problem is that many primaries, those held in August or September, are quite simply too late for this new timeline.

Several states have acted to move their primary dates or to request a waiver in 2010. On the other hand, some states are already talking about faxing and emailing ballots as a workaround. West Virginia has even launched a pilot program allowing military voters to cast ballots electronically.

So, what does this all mean for you, the overseas voter, this year?

  • possible changes in your state’s primary schedule so make sure you check the State-Specific Voter Information Directory for election dates and deadlines
  • it means that you’ll need to, as we’ve always recommended, re-register every election year
  • as of the General Election, it will mean that your state must be able to deliver your unvoted ballot "electronically", which could mean via a website, email or fax machine

But…if you’re a OVF user, then you already have access to most of the online tools the MOVE Act legislates: electronic registration and ballot request forms and a Federal Write-In Absentee Ballot (the “emergency” ballot) that automatically fills in the official candidate names and the right mailing address.

Do we at OVF think the MOVE Act will help overseas voters?

Indeed: the sending of blank ballots online alone can substantially cut the amount of time required for the voting process.

Once states commit to fully enfranchising overseas voters, dramatic changes can take place very quickly.

Overseas Vote Foundation last summer published a Case Study on the remarkable story of Minnesota which - through a combination of focused outreach, electoral rules changes and the use of a OVF-hosted website  - increased the number of oversease ballots returned by a stupendous 282 percent in 2008 over 2006. (Minnesota Takes the Lead)

But let’s also be clear that the use of the Internet to deliver voting materials is not the same thing as Internet-based voting. We at OVF - and many other voting advocates - believe there are still too much risk of identity theft, fraud and confidentiality to conflate these two. MOVE modernizes the balloting process without entering these muddy waters.

BOTTOM LINE: the MOVE Act bodes well for an increase in the number of votes cast from overseas.

Let’s show that we’re worth this effort: Vote in 2010!

Have a comment or want to suggest a topic? Write to Clair Whitmer, OVF Director of Voter Outreach