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Reducing Barriers for Military Voters

Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson recently spoke about her husband’s experience voting while deployed in Afghanistan in 2012 and the unique barriers faced by those deployed abroad when attempting to vote:

“You can know everything you’re supposed to do and still, our men and women serving abroad, and their families… as well as millions of overseas Americans have unique struggles in getting and ensuring… that your voice is heard and that your ballot is counted.” 

Our recently released report traces the steps our country has taken since the Civil War to address the inherent barriers to voting facing our deployed military. Nearly 4 million active-duty military, their family, and other citizens residing outside the country vote at some of the lowest rates and have the widest turnout gaps, largely due to the persistent logistical challenges they face simply getting and returning a ballot by mail. 

Most states seek to mitigate the risk of postal delivery delays for military and overseas voters by permitting them to return their voted ballots electronically.  Most electronic return methods involve sending the voted ballot by fax, by email as PDF attachments, or by uploading the PDFs to an online portal or file transfer site, usually hosted by the state’s chief election official.  States with electronic return options average at least three percent higher turnout among eligible military and overseas voters, and have a four percent lower ballot rejection rate. 

This modest increase in turnout is notable, but it is clear that existing options are not adequately meeting the needs of our military voters and other voters overseas. Existing options typically require the voter to have access not only to a computer or mobile device but also to a printer and possibly a scanner in order to print and sign their ballot affidavit and then upload it for electronic return. These methods also require the voter to give up their right to a secret ballot because there is no way election officials can separate their identity from their marked ballot.  And these return methods carry tremendous security risks, giving voters no ability to verify whether or not the ballot received by the election office is the same as the ballot they cast while forcing election officials to open email attachments from unknown email accounts, exposing them to a vast array of cybersecurity risks that could threaten other parts of the election system, including voter registration databases.

Mobile voting options would offer a more secure return method than email or fax and not force voters to give up their right to a secret ballot.  Mobile voting has already been piloted in over 330 jurisdictions across ten states, and research by the University of Chicago found that mobile voting increased turnout by as much as 5 percent among military and overseas voters in West Virginia. It’s time to add mobile voting options to better meet the needs of the men and women serving our country. Learn more at