Report | March 29, 2021

Evaluation of Department of Defense Voting Assistance Programs for Calendar Year 2020 (DODIG-2021-066)

Evaluation

Publicly Released: March 31, 2021

 

Objective

The objective of our evaluation was to report on the effectiveness of voting assistance programs and the level of compliance with the voting assistance programs of the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps during calendar year 2020, in accordance with the requirements of section 1566, title 10, United States Code (10 U.S.C § 1566 [2014]), as amended.

Additionally, we determined whether the Federal Voting Assistance Program (FVAP) Office complied with the requirements of DoD Instruction 1000.04, with regard to outreach efforts to Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act (UOCAVA) voters.

 

Background

Public Law 99-410, “The Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act,” as modified by the Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment (MOVE) Act and other provisions, states that Service Members, their eligible family members, and other eligible overseas voters have the right to vote. The law establishes voting assistance programs intended to help these absentee voters register and vote.

Another law, 10 U.S.C. § 1566 requires the DoD Inspector General (IG) to complete an annual report by March 31st of each calendar 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 IG in time to be reflected in the IG’s March 31 report to Congress.

In addition, the Secretary of each Military Department, or the Presidential designee, is required to take appropriate actions to inform absent Uniformed Services voters of assistance available, including:

  • the availability of information and voter registration assistance at voting assistance offices (including the official post card form); and
     
  • the time, location, and manner in which an absent Uniformed Services voter may use such assistance.

The Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness carried out voting assistance through the FVAP Office.

 

Service Voting Assistance Program Summaries

We are reporting on the annual assessments of the Military Services voting assistance programs for 2020 submitted by the Military Service IGs. Each of the Service IGs applied the measures of performance and effect (see Appendix C for Service voting assistance program performance metrics and reporting requirements), illustrated Service coordination with the FVAP Office, and described distribution of voting materials and contact with eligible voters. In addition, the Service IGs applied a standardized checklist for their inspections of voting assistance programs in seven specific program areas: staffing, training, material distribution, communication and information network, commander and installation-level involvement, program compliance, and program effectiveness. Each Service IG found their Service’s voting assistance program to be compliant with the requirements of UOCAVA and DoD Instruction 1000.04 and generally effective.

  • The Army IG reported that the Army voting assistance program was effective. The report stated that 23 of 23 (100 percent) commands inspected developed redundant systems to either hand-deliver or electronically deliver the “Voter Registration and Absentee Ballot Request: Federal Post Card Application” to eligible voters. With regard to outreach, the Army’s voting assistance program enabled 166,704 soldiers, civilians, family members, and contractors to participate fully in the election process. In addition, the Army IG inspected 23 of 23 (100 percent) of the installation voting assistance offices, and 1,572 of 1,644 units (96 percent). All inspected units had designated unit voting assistance officers in writing. Of the 23 senior-level commands the Army IG inspected, 1,572 of 1,644 unit voting assistance officers complied with DoD Instruction 1000.04 and Army guidance regarding delivery of absentee ballot requests.
     
  • The Naval IG reported that the Navy voting assistance program was effective. The Commander of Navy Installations Command Enterprise, encompassing 10 regions and 70 installations, determined that the Navy voting assistance program was compliant and effective in accordance with DoD Instruction 1000.04 and Navy policy. The Naval IG evaluated 31 Navy commands based on command inspection visits, and a self-assessment data call. Of the 31 commands assessed, 27 (87 percent) were compliant and four (13 percent) were partially compliant. Of the four that were partially compliant, three were found to be effective overall at disseminating voting information to personnel and subordinate units. One was only partially effective. Risk to voting assistance in these commands was mitigated by the availability of voting assistance materials online through the FVAP website and informational apps provided by the Commander of Navy Installations Command, as well as access to installation voting assistance offices. With regard to outreach during the 2020 general election for the Federal office cycle, the Naval IG contacted 661,853 military personnel, 12,185 spouses and dependents; and 139,511 civilians.
     
  • The Air Force IG reported that the Air Force voting assistance program was effective. The Air Force IG reported that it inspected 100 percent of reportable units (151 organizations), and that 172 deficiencies were reported, with 92 of 158 minor deficiencies remaining open, and 10 of 14 significant deficiencies remaining open. There were zero critical deficiencies. With regard to outreach during the 2020 general election for the Federal office cycle, the Air Force IG stated that FVAP records confirmed the Air Force provided voter assistance for a combined total at the installation and unit levels for 1,088,671 military personnel, 35,320 spouses and dependents, and 150,149 civilians.
     
  • The Marine Corps IG reported that the Marine Corps voting assistance program was effective. The Marine Corps IG based its conclusion on the results of 142 inspections, quarterly voting reports, and performance metrics. With regard to outreach, Marine Corps voting assistance offices provided voting assistance to 216,113 military personnel, 8,601 spouses, and 13,929 Federal civilian personnel.

 

Finding

We also reviewed compliance with DoD Instruction 1000.04 with regard to outreach efforts to UOCAVA voters. The FVAP Office generally provided effective outreach assistance to eligible UOCAVA voters and their family members, as well as external stakeholder agencies, such as the Election Assistance Commission, and the Departments of Commerce, Health and Human Services, Justice, State, and Transportation.

The FVAP Office coordinated with the Services, election officials, eligible voters, and Congress to ensure that Service members, their eligible family members, and overseas citizens were aware of their right to vote and had the tools and resources to successfully exercise that right. Specifically, the FVAP Office performed outreach through multiple actions, as required by DoD Instruction 1000.04. Those actions included:

  • Service engagement - Coordination with voting assistance officers and the FVAP Office, and the availability of the website portal, ensure that voting tools and resources, such as absentee voting forms, materials, training, and guidance, are available for eligible voters.
     
  • Election official engagement – Engagement with State and local election officials to ensure officials’ awareness of their responsibilities under the UOCAVA, and provide them with the information and tools needed to assist voters covered by the UOCAVA.
     
  • Direct voter assistance to eligible voters - Assistance is provided through the FVAP.gov website, a voter call center, and a comprehensive voter assistance guide.
     
  • Research and evaluation - Analysis of post-election surveys and voting assistance officer metrics identify trends and any obstacles to voting.
     
  • Congressional reporting – Annual reports summarize post-election survey results on the effectiveness, oversight, and compliance of FVAP efforts, and the corresponding assistance provided to eligible voters.
     
  • External stakeholder agency engagement – Coordination with external stakeholder agencies, including the Election Assistance Commission, and the Departments of Commerce, Health and Human Services, Justice, State, and Transportation is key to enhance outreach and ensure a collaborative and efficient effort to support eligible UOCAVA-covered voters and their eligible family members, including those in deployed, dispersed, and tenant organizations.

As a result of actions by the FVAP Office, eligible voters had the information necessary to participate in the voting process. DoD organizations and leaders also had the necessary tools to ensure access to and comply with Federal law and DoD Instruction 1000.04.

However, the FVAP Office had not developed and implemented agreements, such as memorandums of understanding, with all external stakeholder agencies to enhance outreach and ensure a collaborative and efficient effort to support UOCAVA voters. Entering into memorandums of understanding with other Federal agencies will allow the FVAP Office to strengthen its communications by expanding its outreach through other federal agencies. These efforts boost voter awareness, knowledge, and participation in upcoming election cycles.

 

Recommendation

We recommend that the Director of the FVAP Office develop and implement agreements, such as memorandums of understanding, with all external stakeholder agencies to enhance outreach efforts and ensure a collaborative and efficient effort to support UOCAVA voters and their eligible family members, including those in deployed, dispersed, and tenant organizations.

 

Management Comments and Our Response

The Director of the FVAP Office agreed with the recommendation. The comments from the Director of the FVAP Office addressed the intent of the recommendation; therefore, the recommendation is resolved and open. We will close the recommendation once we obtain and verify that the agreements, such as memorandums of understanding, were implemented with external stakeholder agencies.

 

This report is the product of Proj. No. D2021-DEV0PA-0004.000