I. In Focus This Week
FVAP report shows continued trends in military voting
Report highlights successes and future challenges
By Matt Morse
Senior Associate, Pew Center on the States
This release follows the recent publication of data and a report on military and overseas voting by the U.S. Election Assistance Commission.
While the report includes numerous details focusing on the specifics of members of this community, the general trend is clear:members of the military and their spouses are highly engaged in the elections process and continue to register and vote at higher rates than the general electorate.
Unlike the EAC, which simply reports data provided by states as part of the Election Administration and Voting Survey, the FVAP adjusted military participation data to account for the age and gender of the generally younger and male population of uniformed voters. FVAP also surveyed a number of populations to ascertain their level of participation in 2010.
The result of both of these efforts yielded data showing that military participation in registration and voting is strong, mirroring figures from 2008. Moreover, military voter participation increased in 2010 – more than 20 percent over 2006.
For the first time, FVAP also surveyed military spouses, who are entitled to the same protections under federal and state laws and face hurdles of their own when attempting to register and cast a ballot.
On their own, these numbers clearly show that these voters are more involved in the electoral process than the average citizen, but when you take into account unique challenges they face, the numbers are even more compelling.
For example, many military voters face specific challenges:numerous deployments and relocations; convoluted laws that vary by state and lack uniformity; as well as remote locations that make it difficult to get information, update registration, or get mail quickly to and from their state election offices.
Despite that, those in the military register at a rate of 77 percent compared to 65 percent for the greater eligible voting population. Similarly, both members of the military and their spouses vote at a higher rate than the average voter.
Compared to 2006, 24 percent more military personnel cast an absentee ballot in 2010, a number that may be attributed to new state and federal laws that took effect in response to the Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment Act.
Unfortunately, the rate of military voters who never received their ballot also went up, suggesting that more work needs to be done to ensure this community is served.
Many of these voters (73 percent of spouses and 38 percent of servicemembers) also used state and local forms, rather than the official federal forms, which may not have allowed them to self-identify as a UOCAVA voter and take advantage of those benefits and protections.
The Pew Center on the States’ Election Initiatives has long worked on behalf of military and overseas voters and these numbers are extremely illuminating and help to guide our work further.
We know more certain than ever that those serving and representing our country overseas want to participate our democracy, and we are dedicated to supporting them with the policies and tools they need.
In addition to advocating for changes in state laws to make the voting process easier for military and overseas voters, our Voting Information Project and Upgrading Voter Registration initiatives are making it easier for these voters to navigate the voter registration process and get the tools and information they need to request a ballot, find the right deadlines, and successfully cast a ballot.
For example, Pew is currently developing an embeddable tool that aims to serve as a one-stop-shop for answering military voters’ questions, including user-specific deadlines and access to a custom Federal Write-in Absentee Ballot, all based on a voter’s registered address stateside.
This tool could be embedded on state election websites or even military information outlets to simplify the process by providing them with official information where they look for it:on news or military organizations’ websites. These findings tell us that these voters are engaged and simply need more outlets and easier access to the information they need.
II. Election News This Week
- While many states have gotten away from holding two primaries in 2012, circumstances around redistricting are forcing Ohio to schedule a presidential preference primary and a state primary. The primaries will be held in March and June. Upon the announcement, local elections officials quickly listed the impacts two primaries will have on voters and elections officials. Franklin County estimates a second primary will cost the county an additional $1M. The overall estimated additional cost to taxpayers statewide is $15M. Officials in Columbiana County fear that two primaries will confuse voters and ultimately drive down voter turnout in one of the primaries.
- Voters in New Mexico’s second largest county will be using vote centers for the 2012 primary and general election. This week the Dona Ana County commission voted 5-0 to make the switch to eliminate the state’s 82 remaining polling places and replace them with 39 at-large voting centers. It’s estimated the move will save the county $170,000 in the first election year.
- New Smyrna Beach High School [Fla.], civics teacher Jill Cicciarelli didn’t end up in the principal’s office, but she did end up at the center of a political storm when she helped her students pre-register to vote. Volusia County Supervisor of Elections Ann McFall is no fan of the new Florida law that requires third parties that help voters register so when she heard the story about Cicciarelli, she knew she would have to report the teacher. “This isn’t someone who was going to commit fraud,” McFall told The News Journal. “She was doing a good thing. New Smyrna Beach High School was doing a good thing.” According to the paper, since the law took effect in July, the state Division of Elections has issued only warnings. No incident has been turned over to the attorney general’s office for enforcement, said Chris Cate, a spokesman with the secretary of state’s office. U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson has entered the fray as well.
- File this one under, well I’m not really sure what to file this one under. Officials in the Maine town of Sanford were recently faced with quite a quandary when they realized that a banquet hall used as a polling place was also being used for monthly sex parties. Ultimately the town made the choice to move the polling place for the upcoming Nov. 8 election. “Not knowing what might be present or how clean the hall might be, we moved the polling place in case anyone might be uncomfortable voting there,” Town Clerk Sue Cote told The Portland Press Herald.
- Honors & Awards:Seminole County, Fla. Supervisor of Elections Michael Ertel has been awarded an Innovator Award from Campaigns and Elections Magazine. The Utah Lieutenant Governor’s office has been recognized with a Government Achievement Award from the Center for Digital Government for the state’s online voter registration system. Marshall County, Tenn. Elections Administrator Tristan Arnold has passed the Certification Exam for Administrators of Elections.
- Personnel News:Clifford Tatum has been named the new executive director of the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics. Tatum takes over for Paul E. Stenbjorn who has served since the summer resignation of previous director Rokey W. Suleman. Stenbjorn is leaving to run the U.S. operations for Scytl, a Spanish company specializing in election technology. Incumbent Louisiana Secretary of State Tom Schedler narrowly defeated Jim Tucker in Saturday’s primary. Harry D. Butler has been appointed to a second term as chairman of the Etowah County board of registrars. The list of candidates seeking the Missouri secretary of state’s seat is getting longer. This week, Rep. Shane Schoeller (R-Willard) formally announced his candidacy. Washington, D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray is once again putting forth a nominee for the city’s board of elections and ethics. This time the nominee is former city auditor Deborah Nichols.