Civic-minded soldiers stationed across the world could one day obtain absentee ballots from their laptops or mobile phones as part of a new federal research effort to increase participation among overseas troops and other voters who are out of the country during elections.
A team of Missouri researchers trained in technology, cyber-security and elections management will use a $740,000 Department of Defense grant to explore Internet-based and mobile phone voting applications.
The project initially will focus on speeding the delivery of overseas ballots, Boone County Clerk Wendy Noren said at a Thursday press conference announcing the collaboration. Noren emphasized that voters won’t actually cast ballots online, but researchers will study ways to surmount the security obstacles to online voting. “The time it takes to deliver ballots and have ballots returned is unacceptable,” she said. “This has been a long, ongoing problem by military and overseas voters.”
More than 350,000 ballots nationwide from overseas voters in the 2008 presidential election were rejected due to delivery, return, registration or counting errors, Noren said. Nearly 300,000 of those unaccepted ballots involved late submission or other return failures.
The larger number of rejected ballots represents more than 30 percent of all absentee ballots cast in the 2008 election. Noren and her collaborators hope that Congress’ passage of the Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment (MOVE) Act in 2009 will allow voting systems to catch up with 21st Century technology
“It has been a particularly frustrating situation for members of the military and overseas citizens who know there is a path out there to get access to their ballots that was not available,” Noren said.
The project will expand upon a Boone County pilot effort in 2010 in which more than 90 percent of the county’s eligible overseas absentee had electronic access to their ballot six weeks before the election. The collaboration includes the Missouri secretary of state, Noren’s office and the University of Missouri. Researchers will be enlisted from the Reynolds Journalism Institute, the Truman School of Public Affairs and the College of Engineering’s computer science and information technology department.