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Program to help soldiers have say

Profile image for By Bj Lewis / Staff Writer
By Bj Lewis / Staff Writer

County joining group to simplify voting for those serving abroad

With the November general election in the rearview mirror, Denton County election officials are establishing a new partnership with Rockwall County that will ease the process for soldiers overseas to cast their ballots.

Denton will join 50 Texas counties, including Rockwall, in a consortium known as Your Texas — Your Vote, which will apply to the Federal Voting Assistance Program for a Texas Effective Absentee Systems for Elections grant.

The grant allows members of the military and other qualifying overseas voters who request a ballot to link to a secure online site that would allow them to complete their ballot, print it and mail it to Denton County.

Under the current process, soldiers must request a ballot from election officials. An e-mail is sent to the soldiers with attachments that include voting information and the ballot. But sometimes the recipient is in a location that blocks the person from getting attachments through e-mail, or from getting any e-mail at all, said Frank Phillips, Denton County elections administrator.

Mark Carter is the regional director of Democracy Live, an election technology firm that would oversee the operation of the grant. Carter told Denton County commissioners last week that his organization has seen the launch of similar ballot initiatives in Florida, California, Virginia and New Mexico, using $20 million in federal funds.

The latest funding piece is being used on Texas, Carter said.

The only cost the county would incur would be after the expiration of the grant; the county would be charged a dollar for every ballot received. But, Carter said, Democracy Live would be looking at ways to extend the grant to keep the county from having to pay anything.

Carter assured commissioners the ballots are on a secure, hosted environment, thanks to a partnership with Microsoft to use its cloud service.

Another part of the program is the software that would provide information required by the Department of Defense.

“We have to report how many military ballots came back in,” Phillips said. “They ask for a lot of different metrics and reports, and this will all be automated now.”

Democracy Live is still waiting to hear from a handful of Texas counties that, due to elections and other business, were not able to set meetings among their officials until this month. Dallas and Tarrant counties are not among the 50 counties participating at this time, Carter told commissioners.

“We’re trying to help some of the medium-sized or smaller counties,” Carter said. “A lot of larger counties will create their own software in-house with their IT departments.”

Election officials are working toward having the new initiative going by the March primary election.

BJ LEWIS can be reached at 940-566-6875 and via Twitter at @BjlewisDRC.