Overseas Vote Foundation
OVF Research Newsletter
Volume 1, Issue 1: May 2009

I. Introducing the OVF Research Newsletter and Website

Overseas Vote Foundation (OVF) is committed to advancing research on overseas and military voters and voting. Surveys and ongoing research are vital to substantiating the efforts of OVF, election officials on all levels, scholars and advocates in understanding and improving registration and voting processes for citizens who live abroad or serve in the military.

Many organizations contribute to our knowledge of UOCAVA voters: NGOs, think tanks, government agencies, and academic research entities. The fact that UOCAVA research is dispersed around the Internet means that, keeping up with the various developments is difficult.

To enhance the exchange of ideas and promote dialogue on this issue, the OVF Research Newsletter will collect updates from relevant sources, summarize results and provide valuable links. This publication is intended to keep its readers up-to-date by providing feature articles, book reviews, conference papers and legislative updates.

The newsletter will examine and answer questions such as:

  • How many US voters live abroad?
  • How can we improve UOCAVA survey methodology?
  • How has state legislation impacted the voter?

In addition to the newsletter, OVF is increasing its publication efforts via the new Research section added to the main OVF website (or "OVF Classic: as we call it internally). The research section of the website was launched in February 2009. OVF aims to create a clearinghouse for UOCAVA research and to provide access to a broad range of relevant overseas and military voting research.

You can reach the Research section of the OVF Classic website by clicking on "Research" along the footer of the main page. In addition to our own research, you will see links to the PEW Center on the States, the Federal Voting Assistance Program (FVAP), the US Election Assistance Commission (EAC,) the General Accountability Office (GAO), as well as other academic resources. https://www.overseasvotefoundation.org/research-intro/

II. Meet the Editor

Claire M. Smith received her PhD in political science from the University of Notre Dame in May 2005, where she specialized in political parties and party systems. In her dissertation, "Money to Burn: Party Finance and Party Organization in Federal Countries," she used a rational-choice institutional model to explain how party organizations change in reaction to alterations in party finance policy. She tested this theory by examining thirteen parties in the U.S., Canada, Germany and Austria. Finance reports, interviews, and original survey research demonstrated the increasing professionalism of political parties on all levels and their increasing distance from members and activists.

During her graduate studies, Claire also attended the Summer Program in Quantitative Methods of Social Research at the Inter-University Consortium for Political and Social Research, where she focused on categorical data analysis.

Claire has presented her research at conferences including the Midwestern Political Science Association, the Annual Meeting of the American Political Science Association, the Northeastern Political Science Association and the International Studies Association. She is currently a member of the American Political Science Association.

From 2005 to 2006 she taught as an adjunct professor of politics at the University of Oldenburg, Germany. Her classes included American politics ("Participation and Voting in the U.S.") and German politics ("Parties and Organizations in Germany"). In September 2008, Dr. Smith joined Overseas Vote Foundation as a volunteer. During the presidential election, Dr. Smith worked a front line support position on the Voter Help Desk, communicating to US voters around the world. In January 2009, Dr. Smith joined with OVF's post-election research team where she used her research experience to analyze and write the 2008 Post Election UOCAVA Voter and Election Official Research Reports, which can be found at https://www.overseasvotefoundation.org/files/OVF_2009_PostElectionSurvey_Report.pdf

Dr. Smith is now charged with managing OVF's Research Program and acting as an intermediary to the academic and professional research community, as well as developing and executing against OVF's own research objectives.

Claire currently lives with her husband and young son in Wildeshausen, Germany. In addition to her work with OVF, she volunteers as a regional representative for American Citizens Abroad. She is also a CELTA Certified Instructor and freelance business English teacher.

III. Featured Article: Defining the Universe: The Problem of Counting Overseas Voters
by: Dr. Claire M. Smith

The Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act (UOCAVA) defines an overseas voter as:

  1. an absent uniformed services voter who, by reason of active duty or service is absent from the United States on the date of the election involved;
  2. a person who resides outside the United States and is qualified to vote in the last place in which the person was domiciled before leaving the United States; or
  3. a person who resides outside the United States and (but for such residence) would be qualified to vote in the last place in which the person was domiciled before leaving the United States.

 

Identifying and counting the number of individuals coved by this definition is not simple. In fact, the most common question in UOCAVA research and reporting, and also the most hotly debated topic, involves determining the number of potential overseas voters. Just how many American voters live abroad? The US Census Bureau Census included approximately 580,000 federal employees and dependents (226,363 military personnel, 30,576 civilian employees, and 319,428 dependents of military and civilian employees) in their 2000 apportionments (U.S. Census Bureau 2001). The Department of Defense Personnel and Procurement Statistics reported that 283,589 military personnel and 42,992 civilian employees worked abroad as of December 2008 (Department of Defense 2009).

Although the numbers involving military personnel are stable and fairly accurate as a data source, the level of civilian Americans living abroad is less specific. In July 1999, the Bureau of Consular Affairs estimated that 3,784,693 private American citizens lived overseas. Unfortunately for those who are interested in UOCAVA voters, this figure has not been updated by the State Department since 1999. They have confirmed that there are more current estimates but, because of security concerns, it will not release them publicly. Other estimates that adjust for this 10 year difference put the current number as high as 6.6 million. If we add the military and civilian populations, the total is somewhere between 4.3 and 7 million Americans abroad.

The U.S. Census Bureau documented how difficult it is to measure this population in its 2001 report: "The Census Bureau does not know the number of private Americans living abroad under the other categories. No accurate estimate exists of the total number of Americans living abroad or of the other components of this population." How do we define an "overseas American?" They identify several important key methodological concerns in defining and counting overseas Americans, such as: proof of U.S. citizenship, including citizens who intend to return to the United States or only individual's people born in the United States.

Survey data and other estimates are left to fill the gap. For example, the Federal Voting Assistance Program (FVAP) released new information in 2008. The FVAP's military personnel data comes from the Defense Finance and Accounting Service (DFAS). In order to calculate military dependents, the FVAP multiplied the military service member population by 75%. The overseas civilian number was estimated by taking an overall estimate of the total UOCAVA population (about 6.3 million) and subtracting the number of military personnel and military dependent estimates, leaving approximately 3.725 million overseas civilians. This number was then distributed to each State proportionally, according to that State's share of the national population. The FVAP estimates are summarized below in Table 1.

TABLE 1

OVERSEAS POPULATION BY STATE, FVAP 2008 ESTIMATES

STATE UOCAVA ESTIMATE
California 672,686
Texas 669,734
Florida 535,595
New York 358,971
Illinois 259,125
Pennsylvania 252,999
Ohio 224,107
Michigan 204,054
Georgia 172,928
Washington 167,416
Source: Federal Voter Assistance Program. http://www.fvap.gov/reference/laws/state-initiatives/index.html

Michael McDonald, Professor of Public and International Affairs at George Mason University, adjusted the FVAP estimates to create his own measure of UOCAVA voters. He estimates that there are a total of 4,972,217 eligible UOCAVA voters. To arrive at this total, he first takes the number of deployed military personnel as reported by the Department of Defense. He then deflated the civilian numbers by 25%, which he did because this number corresponds to the proportion of minors among the United States resident citizen population. The McDonald estimates refer to the "voting eligible" population only and are more conservative than the FVAP estimates. The top 10 McDonald states are listed below.

TABLE 2

OVERSEAS VOTING ELIGIBLE POPULATION BY STATE, MCDONALD 2008 ESTIMATES

STATE VOTING ELIGIBLE POPULATION
Texas 549,219
California 486,207
Florida 451,907
New York 263,787
Pennsylvania 203,791
Illinois 200,530
Ohio 174,703
Michigan 163,673
Georgia 141,001
Washington 138,296
Source: McDonald, Michael. 2009. "United States Elections Project, Voter Turnout 2008." http://elections.gmu.edu/Turnout_2008G.html

According to these estimates, and as we can see in Figure 1 below, overseas voters are not concentrated in one specific region, but are distributed throughout all fifty states. The highest population comes from Texas, with 549,219 voters, and the lowest from Vermont, with 10,546 voters.

FIGURE 1

2008 OVERSEAS VOTER ELIGIBLE POPULATION BY STATE

  125,000+
  75,000 - 124,999
  40,000 - 74,999
  20,000 - 39,999
  0 - 19,999

In OVF's 2008 Post-Election Survey over 23,000 respondents indicated the state in which they are registered. Survey estimates of population are open to criticism, because the representativeness of the data is unknown. However, if we compare the number of OVF survey respondents to the current population estimates, we do not see any noticeable deviation in the percentages. We observe, however, that California, Minnesota and New York appear to be over represented in the sample, whereas Florida, Georgia, North Carolina and Tennessee appear to be underrepresented. OVF's top 10 states are listed below in Table 3.

TABLE 3

OVF 2008 SURVEY RESPONDENTS BY STATE

STATE NUMBER OF
RESPONDENTS
PERCENT
California 3377 14%
New York 3016 13%
Texas 2058 9%
Florida 1136 5%
Pennsylvania 979 4%
Illinois 919 4%
Massachusetts 880 4%
New Jersey 878 4%
Ohio 805 3%
Minnesota 785 3%
Source: Smith and Dzieduszycka-Suinat. 2008. 2008 OVF Post Election UOCAVA Survey Report and Analysis: 15.

As seen below in Figure 2, the regional distribution of OVF survey respondents is similar to the estimates of the voting eligible population.

FIGURE 2

OVF SURVEY RESPONDENTS BY STATE

  750+
  250 - 749
  100 - 249
  50 - 99
  0 - 49

The estimates discussed above are hindered by an important methodological consideration. When extrapolating the data we assume that the portion of a state's overseas population is similar to its domestic population, as seen in the U.S. census data below, where the top 10 largest states comprise about 54% of the total U.S. population. We likewise apply this assumption to the military population. Until the Census Bureau or the State Department do additional studies, however, we cannot approve or disprove this hypothesis.

TABLE 4

TOTAL STATE POPULATION, 2008

STATE POPULATION POPULATION
AS A
PERCENT OF
US TOTAL
California 36,756,666 12.09%
Texas 24,326,974 8.00%
New York 19,490,297 6.41%
Florida 18,328,340 6.03%
Illinois 12,901,563 4.24%
Pennsylvania 12,448,279 4.09%
Ohio 11,485,910 3.78%
Michigan 10,003,422 3.29%
Georgia 9,685,744 3.19%
North Carolina 9,222,414 3.03%
Source: U.S. Census Bureau. 2008. "Annual Estimates of the Resident Population for the United States, Regions, States, and Puerto Rico: April 1, 2000 to July 1, 2008." http://www.census.gov/popest/states/NST-ann-est.html.

Despite these challenges, we can draw several clear conclusions from this review. First, there is overwhelming evidence that the overseas population is large and continues to grow. Second, we know that the data on the military population is stable and accurate, while civilian voters are more difficult to count. Third, we can observe that the various estimates are based on the same original data source, although apportioned slightly differently, and the McDonald estimates are slightly lower than the FVAP estimates. We recommend using the McDonald estimates; these estimates are more conservative and reflect the Òvoting eligible population, but not the entire universe of Americans abroad.

References:

Department of Defense Personnel and Military Casualty Statistics. 2009. "Department of Defense Active Duty Military Personnel Strengths by Regional Area and By Country, DECEMBER 31, 2008."
http://siadapp.dmdc.osd.mil/personnel/MILITARY/history/hst0812.pdf (May 12, 2009).

Federal Voter Assistance Program. 2008. "2009 Legislative Initiatives by State."
http://www.fvap.gov/reference/laws/state-initiatives/index.html"> (May 12, 2009).

McDonald, Michael. 2009. "United States Elections Project, Voter Turnout 2008."
http://elections.gmu.edu/Turnout_2008G.html (May 12, 2009).

Smith, Claire and Susan Dzieduszycka-Suinat. 2009. 2008 OVF Post Election UOCAVA Survey Report and Analysis. Arlington, VA: Overseas Vote Foundation.

U.S. Census Bureau. 2001. "Issues of Counting Americans Overseas in Future Censuses."
http://www.census.gov/population/www/socdemo/overseas/overseas-congress-report.html (May 12, 2009).

U.S. Census Bureau. 2008. "Annual Estimates of the Resident Population for the United States, Regions, States, and Puerto Rico: April 1, 2000 to July 1, 2008."
http://www.census.gov/popest/states/NST-ann-est.html (May 12, 2009).

IV. The Legislative Pipeline and Committee Testimony

On May 13, 2009, the Senate Committee on Rules and Administration held a hearing entitled, "Problems for Military and Overseas Voters: Why Many Soldiers and Their Families Can't Vote." The hearing included two panels. The first panel featured the Acting Under Secretary for Personnel and Readiness Department of Defense, Ms. Gail McGinn. The second panel consisted of Ms. Pat Hollarn (Retired Elections Director Okaloosa County), Mr. Don Palmer (Director, Division of Elections Florida Department of State), Lt. Col. Joseph DeCaro (United States Air Force), Mr. Eric Eversole (Attorney) and Mr. Robert Carey (Executive Director, National Defense Committee).

During the hearing Senator Charles Schumer announced the results of a survey by the Congressional Research Services. CRS surveyed the election officials of seven states: California, Florida, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Texas, Washington and West Virginia.

The report concluded that of the 441,000 absentee ballots requested by eligible voters living abroad (mainly active-duty and reserve troops), more than 98,000 were "lost." That is, they were mailed out to voters but never received back by election officials. Almost13,500 ballots that were requested, received and returned to election officials were then rejected for such reasons as a missing signature or a failure to notarize the ballot. The study also found that an additional 11,000 unused ballots were returned to election officials as undeliverable.

Testimony from the Senate hearing, as well as statements from OVF, The Pew Charitable Trusts, and Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans for America can be found at:

http://rules.senate.gov/public/index.cfm?FuseAction=CommitteeSchedule.Hearing&Hearing_ID=4bbecb7a-f4b9-487b-a1e6-47065a293ccf

V. Upcoming Conferences and Events

Committee on House Administration Hearing, Subcommittee on Elections Hearing, ÒMilitary and Overseas Voting: Obstacles and Potential Solutions.Ó May 21, 2009. Washington, DC.

Uniform Law Commission Annual Meeting ,July 9 - 16, 2009, Santa Fe, New Mexico.

  • The Military Services and Overseas Civilian Absentee Voters Act is being considered on July 15.

American Political Science Association Annual Meeting and Exhibition, September 3-6, 2009, Toronto, Ontario (Canada)

  • Dr. Claire M. Smith will be presenting a paper entitled: "It's in the Mail: Surveying UOCAVA Voters and Barriers to Overseas Voting"

VOTE-ID 2009, Second international conference on E-voting and Identity, September 7-8 2009, Luxembourg.

  • VOTE-ID 2009 is the international research meeting point for e-voting experts from different disciplines dealing with all aspects of e-voting ranging from security, cryptography, usability, availability, software engineering issues to legal and sociological issues such as Social Choice theory.

VI. Submissions and Feedback

OVF welcomes article submissions and suggestions to the OVF Research Newsletter and website; please submit your material to the OVF Research Director, Dr. Claire M. Smith (claire@overseasvotefoundation.org). Writers should use the Style Manual for Political Science as released by the American Political Science Association.

Subscribe: If you would like to subscribe to the newsletter, please send an email with your name, organization and email address to: research@overseasvotefoundation.org

VII. In Next Month's Issue

The Data Dilemma: Reviewing UOCAVA Survey Data Sets

Book Review: The Democracy Index (2009) by Heather K. Gerken

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