[Image courtesy of truckerhunt]

electionline’s Mindy Moretti had a fascinating look at a new program out of South Dakota in this week’s electionlineWeekly. It’s reprinted below …

Like most new secretaries of state, South Dakota Secretary of State Jason Gant saw things that needed to be fixed when he entered office in 2011.

For Gant, a lot of his initial work was about streamlining processes, so he focused on new technology and putting more and more information online voters.

But he was also hearing from a select group of voters that were raising concerns about a process that was not streamlined at all — being able to register and vote while serving in the military overseas.

“We heard many stories about all of the challenges with voting while serving overseas,” Gant said.

So in 2011 the state began working on first creating a real-time voter registration management system. Once that project was complete, the state began work on solving the issue of eliminating the possible 60-day time from registering to vote to casting a ballot from overseas.

Now, South Dakota is the first state in the nation to utilize the Department of Defense Common Access Card (CAC) for verification and authentication to allow voter registration, absentee request, receive a ballot, and finally mark a ballot in a program called the Innovative Overseas Absentee-Balloting System (iOASIS).

Using a grant from the Federal Voting Assistance Program (FVAP), South Dakota partnered with Everyone Counts to create the system that streamlines the process that used to take up to 60 days into a process that can now be as quick as five minutes.

The program was tested about 1,000 times by members of the South Dakota National Guard and recently Gant traveled to four different military bases throughout Germany to test drive the program with service members not only from South Dakota, but across the country.

“The system worked as we had planned,” Gant said. “We did learn a few things like the phone number format for an overseas line is different from the U.S., so little changes like that we are correcting.”

Gant said the feedback from the members of the military who tested the program has been extremely positive. 

“Their reaction was ‘Wow, finally a system that is user friendly and real time,'” Gant said. “The most positive comment was that they could register, request absentee, and receive their absentee all is one session on the computer.  They liked that they didn’t have to wait for additional paperwork or log back in another time.” 

In addition to testing in Germany and with members of the S.D. National Guard, Gant said they also reviewed and demonstrated the program with local election officials and the response was extremely positive.

“They were excited that our military and overseas voters could have the option of using such an easy and real-time system,” Gant said.

Although the new system streamlines the process on the front-end, it currently still does require the voter to mail their marked ballot back, but according to Lorie Steele, CEO of Everyone Counts, the system provides flexibility and could include electronic return.

“The program in South Dakota does require the voter to mail back the ballot,” Steele said. “In the case of other jurisdictions, the ballots could be returned securely electronically or the voters could even securely return a full ballot package with signature electronically.”

Because the system uses the CAC cards, it is currently only available to members of the military, but Steele suspects that won’t always be the case.

“This will likely, though, be expanded with time.  Other jurisdictions could use CAC authentication for any federal government employee working overseas.  And the same technology could be used to authenticate civilians with things like driver’s licenses,” Steele said. “Really, this innovation opens up secure remote voting to any voter, anywhere!”

The system will be used for the first time in a live election on Tuesday, April 8th during the Sioux Falls city and school election and then during the primary election on June 3 and the General election in November.

This looks interesting – it will be interesting to see if the CAC approach catches on. Stay tuned …