Military and overseas voters saw improvements in their ability to vote in 2010, thanks to the Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment Act (MOVE) passed in late 2009, according to a report to Congress last month by the Military Postal Service Agency (MPSA). The report indicates that MOVE will improve things further as its provisions become better known and implemented.

The MOVE Act required states to send ballots to military and overseas voters at least 45 days before election-day in federal elections so they have time to return their voted ballot. MPSA must pick up ballots for return to election offices no later than 7 days before election day. MOVE also sped up the process by requiring states to offer electronic transmission (website, email, fax) of blank ballots and registration materials. The law stopped short of establishing electronic return of voted ballots because ballots cannot be secured against undetected interception and manipulation over the internet. New procedures were implemented for 2010, coordinating MPSA with USPS, including the use of Express Military Mail Service (EMMS) for uniformed overseas service members and their families.

The results from the 2010 roll-out were good and should be much improved for its second round in 2012. Highlights of MOVE’s 2010 performance:

  • 71% of ballots shipped by election offices were received by MPOs at least 30 days prior to the election.
  • The overall transit average of ballots from Military Post Offices (MPOs) to election offices was 5.2 days, with 92% delivered within 7 days as required by MOVE.

And challenges to address going forward, according to the report:

  • 27,827 of 66,848 ballots received from election offices [42%] were successfully postmarked and returned by MPSA.
  • 50% of ballots received at overseas MPOs from election offices were undeliverable as addressed. 31% were redirected to new addresses on file and 19% were returned to sender. Reasons cited in the report were 1) Units demobilizing, 2)Inadequate coordination between DoD and USPS address data, 3) Election offices using outdated information, 4) Voters failed to update their data following the 2008 election.
  • Multiple Training and Organizational steps for improvement were identified in the report to be implemented prior to 2012, including:
    • Offer Express Mail Military Service to absentee ballots shipped from election offices to overseas voters.
    • Election officials must comply with MOVEs 45-day requirement to send ballots to overseas voters.

While we look forward to further improvement as the provisions of MOVE become better institutionalized across elections offices, post offices, military bases, and with voters, 2010 was a promising start. It lays down a foundation of secure, cost-efficient methodology to significantly strengthen the franchise of military and overseas voters in U.S. democracy. It should be given time to become fully implemented and evaluated before considering costly electronic return of ballots with the serious security exposure that comes with that. Bravo to Congress, DoD, thousands of state and local elections offices, and to tireless advocates for military and overseas voters!