Military, overseas, disabled voters have electronic absentee voting option
CHARLESTON — Once again, members of the military deployed all over the world, West Virginians living overseas, and certain voters unable to vote in person due to physical disabilities will have to opportunity to vote electronically in November.
The West Virginia Secretary of State’s Office is teaming up again with Democracy Live, Tusk Philanthropies, and the National Cybersecurity Center to offer an e-voting service exclusively for military voters, overseas voters, and disabled voters who are unable to go to their polling location.
E-voting has been available through the Secretary of State’s Office since 2018 for voters eligible under the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voters Act (UOCAVA). Senate Bill 94 – passed by the West Virginia Legislature and signed into law by Gov. Jim Justice on Feb. 3 – allows voters with physical disabilities and the blind to vote in elections by electronic absentee ballots. These voters either are unable to leave their homes or otherwise can’t vote without assistance from others.
UOCAVA voters and voters with disabilities who qualify for the electronic absentee ballot fill out the full absentee voting application just like voters requesting absentee ballots for the COVID-19 pandemic. Once approved, they electronically receive their ballot and vote online through a program created by Seattle-based Democracy Live and funded by Tusk Montgomery Philanthropies – the group that funded a mobile phone-based voting app for deployed military and overseas voters in 2018.
The system allows the voter to mark choices without assistance from others, protecting the privacy of the voter. The voter can submit the ballot electronically or print out the ballot and mail it to their county clerk. The county clerk either receives the ballot the same way they would receive any mailed-in absentee ballot, or they can receive it electronically and print out the ballot. Either way, each vote would have a paper ballot for the clerk to audit.
The Democracy Live program has been around since 2007 and was a partnership between the U.S. Election Assistance Commission which approves voting systems, and the Department of Health and Human Resources and was created to help voters with disabilities cast their ballot. The electronic voting system is called OmniBallot Online and is hosted on the Amazon AWS cloud used by several federal agencies for secure document storage.
The Secretary of State’s Office believes the e-voting program is now more important than ever. It gives military, overseas, and disabled voters the opportunity to skip the U.S. Postal Service and get their ballots directly to their local county clerks. Bradley Tusk, CEO and Founder of Tusk Philanthropies, said there are concerns about the ability of the U.S. Postal Service to get ballots mailed overseas to county clerks in time and postmarked for Election Day.
“Having the option to vote electronically during a pandemic when there have been ongoing disruptions to mail service is important for our active-duty military serving overseas,” Tusk said. “West Virginia understands the importance of providing convenient voting options for the members of our military who are risking their lives to fight for our country.”
Voters with disabilities can apply to use the e-vote system by turning in the absentee ballot application to their local county clerk in person, by mail, fax or email. They can also apply at GoVoteWV.com by using the online Absentee Ballot Application portal. Military and overseas voters to apply by using the Federal Post Card Application at FVAP.gov.