Essential Research Needed to Support UOCAVA-MOVE Act Implementation at the State and Local Levels

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voting, UOCAVA, infrastructure, security, reliability, elections, technology, e-voting, Internet, risks, cybersecurity


Congress’s most recent effort to enable overseas and military voters to cast valid, timely ballots imposed a large number of complex tasks on State and local election administration. By federal mandates, preemptive provisions, and severely constrained implementation timetables, the MOVE Act requires State and local election administration officials to offer Internet transmission of specified services including voter registration and blank ballots. However, Internet-connected election equipment presents many dangers to overseas voters’ ballots and to accurate election totals. Authenticating overseas voters, assuring that they receive only a correct and authentic electronic ballot, guaranteeing vote privacy, maintaining the integrity of the ballots during marking, transmission, storage and canvass, and other essential objectives of election security, are much more difficult -- not less -- when vote transaction data must traverse the Internet. With appropriate infrastructure, however, election offices can reliably serve overseas voters with at least some Internet-transmitted election materials. Achieving reliability, however, requires substantial expert technical services, ongoing staffing and training, and appropriate computer equipment, software, network services, and testing protocols. To avoid repeating the electoral disruptions and injury to public confidence that followed the last federally-induced embrace of problematic computer technologies (paperless electronic precinct voting machines), this paper recommends that Federal assumptions about State and local technical readiness be temporarily set aside. Sound empirical data (that can be anonymized) are needed to document the currently available technical and security infrastructure and changes to that infrastructure which are still needed for MOVE Act full implementation. If Federal election policies and “best practices” continue to be formulated for overseas absentee voting without sound baseline knowledge of existing technical conditions, expertise, and resources, serious election difficulties and inequities are likely to arise. These include (1) federal phase–in planning and support errors arising from erroneous readiness assumptions; (2) insufficient budgetary allocations for initial and ongoing technical and security management; (3) inability to achieve voter privacy, security, and reliability objectives, and thereafter, (4) the likelihood of unfair accusations against election officials for not achieving the mandated objectives. To ensure full implementation of the Act and achievement of its objectives, federal agencies, other funding entities, and State and local election administrators should collaboratively support independent research to document both the status quo and needed technical infrastructure.


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