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Director: Voting Assistance Programs Best They’ve Ever Been

By Claudette Roulo
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Dec. 10, 2012 – Though overseas and absentee voting assistance programs for last month’s election were the best they have ever been, Federal Voting Assistance Program officials plan to keep moving forward to improve, the program’s acting director said here today.

“That by no means should indicate that we can sit on our laurels and say, ‘Wow, we did a great job. We’re done.’ Absolutely not,” Pamela S. Mitchell said during a panel discussion at the Newseum. “Right now we’re busy assessing the lessons learned from this election cycle,” Mitchell said. “We will use those to improve our program as we move forward.”

The decision to vote is a personal one, Mitchell said, and FVAP concentrates on facilitating those who choose to exercise their right to vote.

“First of all, we promote awareness of the right to vote,” Mitchell said. Though that might sound strange, she added, not everyone understands their voting rights.

FVAP also provides tools, resources and information for service members, family members and overseas U.S. citizens can exercise their right to vote no matter where they are in the world, Mitchell said.

For the 2012 election, FVAP took a multi-pronged approach to voter education, she said. “We have an information-rich Web portal -- FVAP.gov -- which has just tremendous tools available for everyone,” she explained. Voters could visit the website to ask questions of trained voting assistance personnel via live chat, request and print federal write-in absentee ballots and get assistance in registering to vote, Mitchell said.

FVAP also operated a call center and trained voting assistance officers at the installation and unit level who were stationed around the world, she said. The program executed a social media campaign in an effort to reach younger voters -- even holding its first-ever Twitter town hall, she noted.

Much of this outreach is done in partnership with the services and other state and federal agencies, Mitchell said. “There isn’t any way that FVAP operating independently could provide the outreach needed and the tools and information needed to facilitate voting by those around the world,” she said. For example, the services published voting information on leave and earning statements, she said, and provided voting awareness training to recruits.

“I strongly believe … that voter assistance is the best it’s ever been,” she said. “I think some of [the] metrics coming out of the election show that our resources were very popular.”

Since November 2011, more than 21 million visitors came to the FVAP website, she said, and about 10 million of those visits were in September and October 2012. More than 1.2 million people sought assistance from voting assistance officers, and the call center handled more than 54,000 requests for assistance, she continued.

“Interestingly, in the days leading up to the election, they were handling some 1,000 requests a day,” Mitchell said.

The pace of technological development makes it difficult to predict how voting will happen in the future, she said, but that future may include online voting. The idea stirs strong opinions, Mitchell said, but “where we sit today at FVAP is not advocating in either direction, but rather advocating that we continue the discussion.”

Ensuring that the online voting process is secure is one problem that remains unsolved, she said. “One of the hard things to think about is how do you sever identity from the anonymity of the vote so that we maintain the anonymity of the vote? Or, the other side of that discussion is do we let folks choose whether or not to give up the anonymous vote?”

For now, though, FVAP maintains voting security through a close partnership with the Justice Department, Mitchell said. “When we become aware of anything, we provide that information to them,” she said. “Compliance is their domain,” she added, noting that the Justice Department has been “very responsive to anything that we’ve passed on to them.”

The panel discussion, “To Serve and Vote: Military and Overseas Voting,” was part of a two-day forum on voting in America that concludes tomorrow. The forum is sponsored by the nonpartisan Pew Center on the States.


Contact Author

Pamela S. Mitchell

Related Sites:
Federal Voting Assistance Program
Pew Center on the States

Related Articles:
Program Empowers Absentee, Overseas Citizen Voters

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