Secretary Tennant testifies on the effectiveness of the Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment Act
ARKERSBURG - West Virginia Secretary of State Natalie Tennant testified before the Committee on House Administration Tuesday in Washington, D.C., on the effectiveness of the Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment Act and its effectiveness in the 2010 elections.
The M.O.V.E. Act was signed into law in 2009, designed to make it easier for military and overseas citizens to cast a ballot. The M.O.V.E. Act modified and expanded provisions of the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act of 1986.
West Virginia was one of the first states to implement a method for for military and overseas citizens to cast their ballot online. Five counties took part in the pilot program during the 2010 primary election, including Wood County, and the program expanded to eight counties for the 2010 general election.
"I believe we achieved a high level of success with these efforts. We received positive voter feedback, experienced a significant increase in UOCAVA voter successful vote attempts, and are ready to work with all stakeholders to ensure that this dearest of individual rights, the right to a meaningful opportunity to cast a ballot, is afforded to all voters. We consider this to be our solemn obligation," Tennant said.
Local election officials said they were pleased with the system and how it operated here and they would like to see it continued.
"We were extremely pleased. We were disappointed that the law that created the pilot project expired. As of right now, we cannot offer the program because the law doesn't allow for it. While it was somewhat costly, we feel it was worth it, serving our men and women overseas in the military. I don't feel the cost should be the issue, as they are over there, after all, fighting for us to have the right to vote," said Wood County Clerk Jamie Six. The pilot project was funded with federal money provided to the state.
The clerk said security measures that were taken proved effect for the system, but he would not be in favor of expanding the Internet voting option to local absentee voters.
"There is a need to do this for those overseas because of delays with the mail, and the men and women serving on ships in the military, there are real issues with making sure their ballots arrive on time to be counted," Six said. "However, if we allowed the Internet option for local voting, I think it would actually be a step backward in West Virginia. With the history of voter intimidation and vote buying in some parts of the state, it might open those issues back up," Six noted.
The military/overseas voter system worked by providing absentee ballot applications on a website. The applications were then mailed to Everyone Counts (the firm providing the software for the online vote system). The firm then e-mailed the voter with a link to the website along with their user name and password to access the website. The user name was only good through the close of polling times on election night. The original pilot overseas Internet voting project included Jackson, Kanawha, Marshall, Monongalia and Wood. The system used encryption to help ensure ballot security.
Tennant told the committee that West Virginia's laws are more stringent than federal laws when it comes to when a ballot must be sent to a military or overseas voter. Federal law sets the deadline at 45 days before the election, West Virginia code sets the deadline at 46 days.