Verified Voting Blog: Enfranchising Military Voters: Michigan Legislators Protect Verifiable, Secret Ballots

In a move to enfranchise soldiers deployed overseas, the Michigan House of Representatives has passed legislation that would allow blank absentee ballots to voters overseas by fax or e-mail. If House Bill 5279 passes the Senate and becomes law, local election officials will be able to send and receive applications for absentee ballots via fax or e-mail, and also be able to send blank absentee ballots to voters electronically. Voters will then print, mark and send the completed physical ballots to their local Michigan election officials. H5279 passed the House unanimously on November 5. Senate committee action is likely in December, according to Emily Carney, an aide to Senate Campaign and Election Oversight Committee chair Sen. Susan McManus.

House Bill 5279 implements a central recommendation of the Pew Center on the States’s January 2009 report “No Time to Vote“. The Pew report stated that Michigan currently does not allow overseas and military voters sufficient time to vote because ballots have to be sent and received via postal mail. The Pew Center recommended that Michigan allow election officials to e-mail blank absentee ballots to overseas and military voters, and accept completed ballots beyond the current election-day deadline.

The Pew report acknowledged significant security and privacy concerns regarding sending completed ballots electronically, and stated “simply sending blank ballots out via fax or e-mail can give military citizens abroad enough time to complete the process.” Computer scientists have expressed serious concern about the security of electronically transmitted, completed ballots, and many states that allow voters to submit their finished ballots require the voter to waive his right to a secret ballot. Last year, the National Institute of Standards and Technology noted that “the security challenges associated with e-mail return of voted ballots are difficult to overcome using technology widely deployed today.”

According to Ms. Carney, the bill may well be amended by the Senate, but there is not interest in allowing voted ballots to be submitted electronically.

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