DoD OIG: Installation voting assistance centers not a necessity

Online and social media communication have decreased the necessity for military installations to have voting assistance offices to the point where they should no longer be mandated, says the Defense Department office of inspector general.

In a report (.pdf) dated Aug. 31, Defense auditors note that since passage of the Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment Act in 2009, each military installation except those in a war zone is statutorily required to have a physical facility in which service members can gain walk-in, face-to-face help with voting absentee in elections.

The Pentagon came up in September 2011 with a list of 224 installations that require an assistance office under law, and told Congress that it had put up 219 of them, the report says.

But when auditions tried contacting those offices using contact information available on the Federal Voting Assistance Program website, they could not in 49.3 percent of the cases. The Air Force is the worst offender, with 60.8 percent of auditor attempts to reach an assistance office having failed, while the best performing is the Army, with only 38.3 of attempted contacts having failed.

That list of 224 installations also underestimates the number of installations covered by the law, auditors say, noting that it leaves out Camp Casey in Korea and the Army garrison in Kaiserslautern, Germany. The fact of base consolidation also means that even installations that comply with the letter don't comply with the spirit, since the nearest assistance office might be a significant distance away.

A soldier stationed at Joint Base Langley-Eustis in Virginia, for example, would have to travel about 40 miles round trip from Ft. Eustis to Langley Air Force Base to reach the nearest assistance office.

Fully funding assistance offices so that they're on all geographically separate installations worldwide would cost the military installations between $15 and $20 million annually, auditors say--noting that the original law didn't allocate funding for the centers.

In any case, the need for voting assistance centers by now might be obsolete, auditors say, since the federal voting assistance officials they interviewed said a more effective way of reaching service members is through social media and emails along with easy-to-use websites.

As proof, voting assistance officials told auditors that an outreach effort using information technology, along with targeted advertising in specialized publications, began in late 2011 ahead of the 2012 primaries and resulted in activity on their web-based voter assistance systems significantly increasing.

As a result, auditors say the Pentagon should propose that Congress modify the 2009 law so that voting assistance offices change from a mandatory to discretionary requirement. Pamela Mitchell, acting director of the federal voting assistance program, said in the official response to the audit she concurs with the recommendation.

For more:
- download the report, DODIG-2012-123 (.pdf)

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