Secretary of State Ross Miller today unveiled Nevada’s Effective Absentee System for Elections, or EASE, an online application that seamlessly integrates voter registration and electronic ballot delivery and marking. EASE is available to members of the United States Armed Forces, their spouses and dependents, and Nevada voters who reside outside of the country. Nevada is the first state in the nation to introduce an entirely online application, from registration to requesting a ballot to ballot delivery to a ballot marking system using a digital/electronic signature, for military and overseas voters. The system at www.nvease.gov is available to all military and overseas voters beginning Friday, Sept. 19, at 8 a.m., coinciding with Nevada’s deadline to distribute absentee ballots to covered voters.
“Our military members currently serving overseas are on the front lines protecting democracy, and we owe them the most accessible, convenient and secure system possible to participate in the very elections they are fighting to defend,” said Miller. “EASE is a huge step forward from where we were only a few months ago, when military and overseas citizens were forced to return a paper absentee ballot by mail, or print out, sign and scan an absentee ballot and return it by email. I thank Assemblyman Elliot Anderson for enthusiastically embracing the bill making EASE a reality in the last legislative session. As a former military member, Assemblyman Anderson is a strong advocate of our armed forces and was a great partner in initiating this online ballot delivery tool.”
Assembly Bill 175, passed during the 2013 Legislature, authorizes covered voters to use digital or electronic signatures to sign applications to register to vote; applications for military-overseas ballots; and military-overseas ballots. Previously, military and other Nevadans covered by the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act (UOCAVA) were required to submit their ballots by mail or they needed a printer and a scanner to receive and return a ballot via email. AB 175 also requires a system of approved electronic transmission to include a method by which a covered voter may provide his or her digital or electronic signature on any document or other material that is necessary for the covered voter to register to vote, apply for a military-overseas ballot or cast a military-overseas ballot.
EASE retrieves the electronic image of the voter’s signature already on file with their county clerk or registrar or from the Nevada Department of Motor Vehicles so it can be used by the voter to register to vote, request an absent ballot or return an absent ballot, negating the requirement of printing and signing the ballot before returning it. After a military or overseas voter marks his or her own ballot with EASE, the system applies the voter’s electronic signature to the ballot and generates a cover sheet with the necessary declarations, affirmations and information to allow the counties to process and count the military or overseas absent ballot. When finished, an EASE voter has the option of saving the ballot materials as a PDF file and emailing it as an attachment to the respective county clerk or registrar’s office, or printing it and returning by mail or fax. Military and overseas voters can access EASE at www.nvease.gov.
Without any additional state funding, the Secretary of State’s office developed the system with a grant from the Federal Voting Assistance Program (FVAP), which was used to design and develop an application that allows military and overseas voters to access their blank absent ballot online in time for the 2014 general election. The EASE 2 grant funds two research areas: the development and effect of online blank ballot delivery tools; and the establishment and effect of a single point of contact in a state election office for the transmission of election materials. Nevada was one of only five recipients to receive the grant in 2013. Members of Nevada’s Army National Guard, 17th Sustainment Brigade, tested EASE prior to today’s launch and provided their thoughts and feedback to the Secretary of State’s team.
“I’m proud that we’re being proactive in making Nevada a leader in enhancing access to military and overseas voters and their families. Nevada’s rejected military and overseas ballots fell by more than 8.5 percent from the 2008 to 2012 elections,” said Miller. “I expect to see another dramatic decrease in rejected ballots as a result of the EASE program.”
Nevada also experienced the third-largest drop – almost 20 percentage points – in the rate of unreturned military and overseas ballots from 2008 to 2012, according to PEW Charitable Trusts’ Election Performance Index (EPI) study released in FY 2013. The study also showed that Nevada was one of only seven states to raise its overall EPI average by more than 10 percentage points from 2008 to 2012, leaping from 22nd to 5th in the nation.
In July 2012, the Military Voter Protection (MVP) Project named Nevada one of 15 All-Star states for taking significant efforts to promote and protect the voting rights of America’s military service members and their families. Miller traveled as a member of a delegation sponsored by the U.S. Department of Defense and FVAP to the Middle East in September 2012 to gain first-hand knowledge of military and overseas voting issues. He and four fellow Secretaries of State met with U.S. officials in Kuwait and Qatar to discuss voter outreach efforts for U.S. citizens living abroad and collaboration to resolve barriers to voting. The trip also included a tour and an extensive presentation of a U.S. Army Post Office to learn how military ballots are processed and transported. Following the trip, the delegation developed a report of findings and recommendations for improving the processes for military and overseas voters.