December 15, 2011— Previous studies have found that more than 30 percent of the nation's military and overseas voters had difficulty voting in the 2008 Presidential Election and, in some cases, did not have their votes counted. The traditional voting methods available at the time required weeks or months for voters to submit applications, receive their ballots and return them. Their ability to vote was further complicated by reliance on foreign mail systems or delivery to inaccessible locations such as submarines.
Now, with a $740,000 grant from the Department of Defense Federal Voting Assistance Program (FVAP), Boone County Clerk Wendy Noren, in conjunction with researchers from the University of Missouri and Secretary of State Robin Carnahan’s office, will be exploring new technologies to solve this problem and help military and overseas voters properly engage in their right to vote in each and every election.
The FVAP grant program was established to fund programs striving to improve the voting experience of UOCAVA voters (Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act), reduce obstacles to voting that these voters encounter, and encourage the development of innovative approaches to these obstacles. The grant will allow for the development of online and mobile applications for ballot delivery but will not allow for any form of electronic return of voted ballots in an election.
In her application for the grant, County Clerk Wendy Noren proposed to collaborate with researchers from the University of Missouri’s College of Engineering, the Reynolds Journalism Institute and the Truman School of Public Administration to research and develop outreach, education and online systems. The systems will be designed to increase the ballot return rate for military and overseas voters whose voting rights have been previously compromised by the time needed to deliver and return ballots.
The grant also includes funding for the Secretary of State to modify the existing state voter registration database to work with the programs developed by the University.
The grant will allow for the development of applications for Internet-based and mobile devices to deliver a variety of services to voters covered under UOCAVA. The University will receive more than $550,000 for work that will include providing local election officials in Missouri free access to the systems developed through 2018. Thereafter the system will be available at pricing affordable to even the smallest Missouri jurisdictions.
Although voted ballots processed under any new system funded by the grant will be not be submitted online or electronically, the University’s cyber-security researchers will work with local officials in test environments to identify obstacles to online voting and research potential solutions. All systems developed by the University will be open-source, public domain software to allow for maximum oversight, transparency, security and cost effectiveness.
“I am extremely grateful to Dale Musser at the College of Engineering and Keith Politte from the Reynolds Journalism Institute for sharing a vision for this project to provide a permanent solution to the barriers military and overseas voters have always faced,” Noren said. “The University has committed to providing a long-term cost-effective solution for local officials that will benefit thousands of our most at-risk voters each federal election.”
"We are thrilled to be working with Missouri’s election officials on this important project that partners the talent and leadership of the Boone County Clerk's office with Mizzou's formidable interdisciplinary capacities" said Keith Politte, who is manager of the Technology Testing Center at the Reynolds Journalism Institute.
The grant is part of the mission of the FVAP under legislation known as the MOVE Act that was adopted in 2009 to allow military and overseas voters access to electronic balloting options. Noren participated in a 2010 pilot program with the Department of Defense that tested some procedures to allow military and overseas voters in Boone County access their ballot online or by email. As a result, more than 90 percent of Boone County’s military and overseas voters had electronic access to their ballot six weeks before the election.
“I look forward to working with the partners in this project to ensure all Missouri soldiers and others living overseas are guaranteed a chance to make their voices heard in our elections,” said Missouri Secretary of State Robin Carnahan. “We have a real chance to create something that can be a model for election officials all across our state as they work to increase efficiencies for military and overseas voters.”
While local voters take a small fraction of voting day to cast their vote, the process can take weeks for UOCAVA voters. Beginning with mailing the application for absentee voter status, these voters must then wait for their ballot to arrive by mail before completing it and mailing it back. Reliance on foreign mail systems or being in inaccessible areas has, according to numerous studies, resulted in an unacceptable percentage of voters never being able to receive and cast a ballot in a timely fashion.
The time that it takes for this information to travel overseas can often make the difference between a ballot arriving in time to be counted in the election or not. By allowing UOCAVA voters to request, receive and print absentee ballots online, the process timeline is significantly reduced and only depends on the mail service for the submission of the completed ballot. Noren emphasizes that the research component of the proposal is both unique and essential in the development of this system as a secure, efficient means of increasing the number of votes coming from UOCAVA voters while reducing the workload for local election authorities.
Also included in Boone County’s grant application was the stipulation that the programs will be designed “with the end goal of providing either perpetual use through migration to state or local hosting sites or development of a cost fee for service system affordable by even the smallest jurisdiction in the state.” By providing this stipulation, Boone County is ensuring that the research and developments made will not only benefit Boone County, but also other counties in Missouri. Additionally, state and local jurisdictions outside of the state of Missouri will have access to these developments, provided that they have the ability to implement the software independent of the University of Missouri.
“The newly appointed president of the University of Missouri System, Timothy Wolfe, expressed his vision for the University to continue to expand the research and technology advances developed by researchers, and subsequently, better the lives of Missouri’s citizens,” Noren said. “This grant and the collaboration between my office and the University is a perfect example of that vision. We hope to take cutting-edge technologies and transform the way voters who are overseas are able to participate in the voting process back here in Missouri. By doing so, this project will enhance the civic engagement between the University and our constituents.”
Wendy Noren - Project Manager and primary administrator
Phone: (573) 886-4295
LCDR Kate Meadows
Defense Press Operations
Personnel & Readiness
Phone: (703) 697-4162
University of Missouri:
Christian Basi – Associate Director, News Bureau
Phone: (573) 882-4430
College of Engineering Computer Science Department
Dale Musser, Ph.D.
Director, Information Technology Program
Phone: (573) 884-1328
William Harrison, Ph.D
Director, MU Center for High Assurance Computing
Associate Professor, Department of Computer Science
Phone: (573) 884-2463
Reynolds Journalism Institute
Keith Politte, Manager of Technology Testing Center
Mobile Application development and civic engagement
Phone: (573) 882-9646
Truman School of Public Affairs
Institute of Public Policy
Dr. David Valentine
Associate Director for Public Service
Phone: (573) 884-5475
Phone: (573) 884-5473
Office of Secretary of State Robin Carnahan
Ryan Hobart – Director of Communications
Phone: (573) 526-0949