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Overseas Vote Foundation Launches In-U.S. Voter Registration Service

BY Miranda Neubauer | Thursday, February 9 2012

The Overseas Vote Foundation is launching a new domestic voter registration and absentee ballot site in this election season that aims to make it easy for voters to fill out and access state-specific election forms.

OVF announced the new initiative, the U.S. Vote Foundation, at its summit at the end of January.

The Overseas Vote Foundation, founded in 2005, has been dedicated to making the overseas registration process more accessible through its websites dedicated to military service members as well as the general population of Americans abroad.

"We know that one of the things that election officials want the most is that voters use the forms that their state provides," said Susan Dzieduszycka-Suinat, OVF's president and CEO. "Some states use the NVRA to send the voter yet another form."

U.S. Vote allows the user to fill out a state-specific voter registration form online, which they can then download and send to their state's board of elections. The U.S. Vote Foundation site is integrated with Facebook, so that some data in the forms can be pulled from a user's profile. Another part of the site, "My Voter Account," is where voters can save their data and regenerate forms in the future. The idea, she said, is that "not only should every citizen have a bank account, but a voter account." The site also offers contact information for local elections officials, using OVF's election official directory, which has been licensed by the National Association of Secretaries of State.

"US Vote has a complete range of voter information services including a detailed FAQ, state-specific dates and deadlines for each election … identification requirements, eligibility requirements, witness and notarization requirements, and candidate information," Dzieduszycka-Suinat wrote in an e-mail.

Turbovote, which launched in fall 2010, is particularly geared at colleges and universities, and according to its FAQ, sends completed forms with postage-paid envelopes to voters at colleges that have partnered with the site, a service Dzieduszycka-Suinat called "very cool."

U.S. Vote, she noted, does not keep completed forms in its system for security reasons and will only generate a form based on a user's request to download one.

Dzieduszycka-Suinat emphasized that OVF wouldn't have been able to offer the new domestic service if it wasn't for experience gained by working to support overseas voters. While for the overseas site there is only one form of output, for the new site that was multiplied by 56, with specific forms for all the states and territories.

New restrictions on voter registration have been enacted in the past year in many states. New voter I.D. requirements will make the process more difficult for certain classes of voters, she said.

"If they know what those requirements are, and can generate the form they need, they can get into the process earlier," she explained. "People wait and procrastinate, they forget that there's a deadline and they won't be able to register."

With new laws regarding eligibility to vote locally, there will be greater need for domestic absentee ballots for students, those who are traveling, and people who struggle to find the time to stand in line due to work or other obligations. In the next few months, the site will also launch a tool to allow for domestic absentee ballot requests.

OVF is in talks to license the U.S. Vote Foundation site to other interested organizations and states, according to Dzieduszycka-Suinat. "Many state sites don't automate their voter registration, the minute you put it online, you improve the legibility, since a big challenge is often reading the filled-out forms," she said.

OVF already licenses its overseas systems to some states like New York, Minnesota and Ohio.

In 2008, OVF had close to five million visits to its site from overseas voters. Particularly in cooperation with other sites, Dzieduszycka-Suinat said, the new service could reach between 25 to 50 million.