Report | March 25, 2019

Evaluation of DoD Voting Assistance Programs for 2018 DODIG-2019-065

 

Objective

In accordance with the requirements of U.S.C. § 1566, our objective was to determine:

  • the effectiveness during the preceding calendar year of each of the Services’ voting assistance programs; and
     
  • the level of compliance during the preceding year by the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps with U.S.C. § 1566 and their respective voting assistance programs.

Our additional self-initiated objective was to determine whether the headquarters of the combatant commands complied with the requirements of DoD Instruction 1000.04 “Federal Voting Assistance Program (FVAP).”

Background

“The Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act,” as modified by the “Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment (MOVE) Act” and other provisions, states that the right to vote is important to Uniformed Service members, their eligible family members, and other eligible overseas voters. The law establishes various voting assistance programs intended to help these absentee voters register, vote, and have their vote counted.

“Voting assistance programs” are defined in 10 U.S.C. § 1566 as “the Federal Voting Assistance Program (FVAP) carried out under the ‘Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act’ (UOCAVA) and any similar program.” The statute requires that the DoD Office of the Inspector General complete a report by March 31 every year and the Inspectors General of the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps to annually:

  • review the compliance and effectiveness of their Service’s voting assistance program, and
     
  • report the results to the DoD Office of Inspector General in time to be reflected in the Inspector General’s March 31 report to Congress.

Service-Report Summaries

We reviewed the annual assessments of the Voting Assistance Programs (VAP) for 2018 submitted by the Inspectors General of the Military Services.

  • The Army Inspector General (IG) reported that the Army VAP complied with federal statute and Service guidance, and that the program was effective. For example, the Army IG wrote that voting action officers had distributed the Federal Post Card Application on or before the required date at 97 percent of units and organizations that the Army IG inspected. In addition, two Army voting assistance offices won the FVAP of the Quarter for the first and third quarters of 2018, awarded by the FVAP office.
     
  • The Naval IG determined that its Service’s VAP was non-compliant but “effective where implemented.” However, the Naval IG’s methodology of rating units that failed to respond to its survey as non-compliant may yield a less-than-complete picture of the Navy VAP. In our previous report, the DoD OIG found that the Navy was non-compliant with Federal guidance during calendar year 2017 because it had eliminated the position of unit voting assistance officers. In April 2018, the Chief of Naval Operations issued an administrative message restoring voting assistance officers in organizations with more than 25 permanently assigned personnel. The Naval IG reported that many commands remained unaware of this administrative message and had not reappointed unit voting assistance officers.
     
  • The Air Force IG reported compliance with Federal statute and Service guidance and reported that the Air Force improved the effectiveness of its program. In our previous report, the DoD OIG found that the Air Force was not compliant with Federal guidance because it had eliminated the position of unit voting assistance officer. In August 2018, the Assistant Secretary of the Air Force issued a memorandum restoring voting assistance officers in all major commands and units with 25 or more permanently assigned members.
     
  • The Marine Corps IG reported that the Marine Corps VAP complied with federal statute and DoD policy and was effective. The Marine Corps IG based this conclusion on inspection results and quarterly reports on effectiveness and measures of performance. At the reported current rate, the Marine Corps is expected to meet its stated goal to inspect all 334 units for VAP compliance and effectiveness at least once in a three-year period.

Findings

The Navy’s VAP evaluation of its Service compliance with 10 U.S.C. 1566, DoD Instruction 1000.04 was incomplete. The Navy relied on a survey with a 49 percent response rate, counting all non-responsive commands as noncompliant, likely underreporting unit FVAP compliance. Over the past four years, the Naval IG reported inspecting 18 of 31 total echelon-2 commands it planned to inspect on a five-year cycle. At this reported rate, the Navy may not achieve its stated goal. Additionally, the Navy still did not have voting assistance officers in every echelon-2 command, region, and installations with more than 25 permanently assigned personnel.  We determined that two of the ten combatant commands (USAFRICOM and USTRANSCOM) had a written FVAP policy as required by DoD Instruction 1000.04 “Federal Voting Assistance Program (FVAP).” The remaining eight combatant commands gave various reasons for not having a policy, stating that they:

  • relied on the Service component or installation policy (USCYBERCOM, USEUCOM, USSOCOM, USSOUTHCOM, and USSTRATCOM),
     
  • were drafting a policy (USINDOPACOM and USNORTHCOM), or
     
  • had none, replying, “a written policy is not in effect,” (USCENTCOM). Written voting policies serve to educate and provide awareness and assistance to all eligible personnel within the command who want to vote. A written policy would also guide Combatant Command staff in the execution of congressionally mandated voting assistance.

Recommendations

We recommend that the Navy senior service voting representative:

  • determine if the evaluation protocol is capturing Service compliance with the Federal Voting Assistance Program, and
     
  • coordinate to ensure that the goals established by the Navy for the frequency of unit Federal Voting Assistance Program inspections are met, and
     
  • bring the Navy voting assistance program into compliance with Section 1566, title 10 United States Code (10 U.S.C. § 1566) “Voting assistance: compliance assessments; assistance” and DoD Instruction 1000.04 “Federal Voting Assistance Program (FVAP)” with regard to assigning unit voting assistance officers.

We recommend that the Commanders of the following combatant commands:

  • U.S. Central Command,
     
  • U.S. Cyber Command,
     
  • U.S. European Command,
     
  • U.S. Indo-Pacific Command,
     
  • U.S. Northern Command,
     
  • U.S. Southern Command,
     
  • U.S. Special Operations Command, and
     
  • U.S. Strategic Command,

develop and implement written voting policies to support Uniformed Services personnel and their family members, including those in deployed, dispersed, and tenant organizations.

Management Comments and Our Response

The response from the Commander, Navy Installations Command, agreed with the recommendation and stated that the Navy Service Voting Action Officer will review the Navy’s self-assessment checklist to ensure that it accurately captures line item compliance with the FVAP. However, the response concerned Service compliance with the FVAP and did not meet the intent of the recommendation. The intent of the recommendation was for the Navy to review its methodology for determining unit compliance with the FVAP, because the decision by the Naval IG to consider non-responsive units as non-compliant while compiling results for the Navy’s annual FVAP report likely results in underreporting. We redirected the recommendation to the Naval IG, which should consider conducting a review of the Navy’s methodology and use of survey responses to determine compliance with the FVAP. We request that the Naval IG respond to the final report by April 29, 2019.

The Commander, Navy Installations Command, stated that the Navy will implement a plan to increase the frequency of unit-level voting inspections for the 2020 election cycle. The Commander also stated that the Navy will release additional guidance and new administrative messaging regarding the updated Service policy on unit voting assistance officers. The recommendations are resolved but remain open. We will close them once we have verified that the Navy has taken the proposed actions.

Six of the eight combatant commands— U.S. Central Command, U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, U.S. Northern Command, U.S. Special Operations Command, U.S. Southern Command, and U.S. Strategic Command—agreed with our recommendation for them to develop and implement new written voting policies. Representatives from USCYBERCOM and USEUCOM agreed with the recommendation, but we did not receive signed comments in time for inclusion in this report. Each stated that their command would develop and implement a written voting policy. We request that USCYBERCOM and USEUCOM provide signed comments in response to the final report by April 29, 2019. The recommendation is resolved, but remains open. We will close the recommendation once we confirm that the combatant commands have published their respective policies.

This report is a result of Project No. D2019-D00SPO-0021.000.