Boone County announces new federal research grant for overseas ballot delivery

Boone County, MU and Secretary of State Robin Carnahan will jointly do the research.

Boone County announced a new grant Thursday to fund research to improve the voting system for overseas voters.

Boone County Clerk Wendy Noren said the Department of Defense Federal Voting Assistance Program approved a $740,000 grant to fund voting methods research until 2016. The research will be a collaborative effort for Boone County, MU and the Office of Secretary of State Robin Carnahan.

In documents released to the media, Noren said studies have shown approximately 30 percent of the nation’s overseas voters had difficulty voting in the 2008 presidential election, and some did not even have their votes counted.

Uniformed and Overseas Citizen Absentee Voting Act voters can range from active duty troops to international businessmen to long-term volunteer workers, according to the document.

Noren said 81.1 percent of overseas ballot casting failures can be attributed to ballot return failure. The federal grant money will be used to research more effective methods of ballot delivery and return, hopefully making the voting process easier for overseas citizens.

“One thing we’ve learned is, given the opportunity, (Uniformed and Overseas Citizen Absentee Voting Act) voters want electronic access to ballots,” Noren said.

The research will primarily consist of testing the delivery of ballots through email and secure websites. It was decided that all new methods will be tested in mock elections before being introduced in real ones in order to protect voters from experimental failure, which means their votes would not be counted. Noren said it is important to understand the research is only about the delivery of blank ballots to voters, not their return.

“This program is not about voting over the internet, it is about delivering blank ballots,” Noren said.

She jokingly threatened to decapitate any reporter who quoted her as saying the research was meant to enable online voting. However, cyber security researchers at MU might look into the feasibility of such methods in the future.

William Harrison, director of the MU Center for High Assurance Computing, said one of the main goals of the research was to ensure any new ballot deliver methods would be secure, so as to best benefit voters.

“The purpose of the research is to improve the lives of Missouri citizens,” Harrison said.

Noren said Boone County is not the only place to receive grants for this kind of research, with several other counties across the country preparing to research ballot delivery methods as well. She said to the best of her knowledge, Boone County is the only grant recipient to be partnering with a major research institution like MU.

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