Overseas And Military Voting Reform Approved By Senate – With Risky Provision

The Senate approved a amendment to the defense authorization bill that would speed voting for service members.  According to the Army Times <read>   (Later the entire bill as amended was passed by the Senate)

The Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment Act, or MOVE Act, would require states that accept federal funds to support elections to set up a streamlined process for service members to register to vote and to request, receive and return absentee ballots.

The use of e-mail and fax to get registered and request ballots would be required, and delivery of completed ballots would have to be done by priority mail or other express service, under terms of the legislation that was attached by voice vote to S 1390, the Senate’s version of the 2010 defense authorization bill…

The legislation seeks to take advantage of technology to resolve problems with regular mail delivery that are part of the reason why military members, their families and other U.S. citizens living overseas have problems voting — but technology can’t solve everything.

In an attempt to ensure that a completed ballot gets counted after someone has gone through all of the effort to register and request a blank ballot, the bill would require, under most circumstances, that a state deliver ballots at least 45 days before a federal election and count ballots that are postmarked on election day or earlier up to 10 days after the election is over.

We have one caution and one concern.

Our caution is that the 45 day ballot requirement will likely require that elections and primaries be separated by more time than in the past.  Minnesota Secretary of State, Mark Ritchie pointed this out in an interview on Minnesota Public Radio on Wednesday.  It is his opinion that September primaries would need to be moved to August.  We don’t think this is a reason not  to assist overseas and military voters, but something election officials need to be concerned with.

Our concern is with a provision in the law which requires a pilot of internet voting.  We would rather have a test than a pilot program – a pilot program implies actual votes.  Such a test should require extensive review and comment before and after by computer scientists and security experts.  We see no mention of such criteria in the bill which includes a list of criteria under “Design And Conduct” <amendment text>  (See the section starting with: “SEC. 589. )

We are not alone in our concerns.  Consider the bill endorsed by Secretary of the State Bysiewicz and its prohibition of internet voting.  And the Technologists Statement on Internet Voting.

We have nothing against internet voting other than that nobody has demonstrated that it is safe.  We have noting against a test if it is evaluated by technologists.  We do object to pilot projects that involve actual votes and with no technical scrutiny required.

Update: 11/11/2009.  MA Passes similar bill, advocates react <read>

BOSTON — Voting advocacy groups are raising doubts about a proposal to allow Massachusetts soldiers stationed overseas to return ballots by e-mail.

The measure was included in a veteran’s benefits bill approved by lawmakers on Tuesday. Gov. Deval Patrick signed the bill Wednesday.

John Bonifaz of the group Voter Action said he supports efforts to make it easier for soldiers to cast ballots, but said there is no way to guarantee that e-mailed ballots aren’t lost or computer systems hacked.

He and other advocates say a better way is to allow soldiers to download ballots off the Internet and then mail them in.

He said that’s an improvement on the current system which requires ballots be mailed from Massachusetts, then returned.

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