Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Deployed Military May Get Electronic Voting In Texas

 If passed, a Texas bill would grant electronic voting to military service members and their families. The bill grants electronic voting privileges to military members deployed to combat zones or stationed overseas. They will be able to submit their ballots by email or digital facsimile ("fax"). The electronic will be extended to their spouses and voting aged children if they accompany the military member to an overseas assignment.

The bill, HB1129, does not grant the electronic voting to Texas residents stationed in the Continental US (CONUS).  The full bill text is available here.

SECTION 1.  Section 105.001(a), Election Code, is amended to read as follows:
       (a)  The secretary of state shall prescribe procedures to allow a person who is casting an early voting ballot by mail to return the ballot by telephonic facsimile machine, e-mail, or similar electronic means if the person  is a member of the armed forces of the United States who is on active duty overseas, or the spouse or a dependent of the member.

Other voter reform to assist military ballots

Another bill, SB 1636, passed the Senate on April 25, 2013. It has been received by the Texas House. The house had an identical companion bill, HB 1792, which passed the house and is awaiting a Senate Floor vote.

The identical companion bills place Texas Residents in the military, and their spouses, if Texas Residents as well, on the Permanent Early Voter List. The PEVL allows them to vote early, by mail, instead of having to request an absentee ballot each year. Requesting and submitting an absentee ballot can be a complicated and time-consuming process. The bills reform and streamline that process for military members.

Military Vote Reform

In the past few election cycles dating back to the 2000 Bush versus Gore presidential race have drawn attention to the need to streamline and reform the military ballot.

The voting process differs from state to state. In some states, absentee ballots are not counted unless the race is close, within a certain threshold. However, early ballots are still counted.

In several cases, states have failed to issue absentee ballots in a timely manner. This has caused deployed Soldiers, Airmen, Marines, and Sailors to receive their absentee ballots after they were due to be returned completed to the states.

Since, several states, including Texas and Arizona, have worked to better insure military members have their votes counted.  

Voter Fraud Concerns

Electronic voting draws concern among several voter integrity activists. The concerns include the potential for ballots to be hacked or forged electronically. Others revolve around questions about insuring voter identity and eligibility. The integrity of the ballot from the time it is sent to the time it is returned, is also a concern. Some activists fear the ballots may be intercepted or altered.

In the case of hard-copy, mail-in PEVL ballots, states such as Texas have taken steps to reduce associated voter fraud and better insure integrity. For example, a Texas bill prohibits any "voting assistance" volunteer from sending in more than 10 ballots. Military Voting Assistance Officers are exempt from this rule.

Allowing the military to return their PEVL and absentee ballots electronically will greatly enhance the chances of their votes being tallied. However, certain safeguards must be enacted to insure the integrity of their electronic voting process. Without that, the military ballot will be open for fraud, manipulation, or gerrymandering.