Clear, consistent standards are needed to judge how well evaluate voting assistance programs’ success in are giving troops and family members the tools and information they need, according to a DoD Inspector General report issued by the Defense Department Inspector General on April 5.

Department of Defense voting assistance programs have the responsibility to must ensure that service members and their eligible dependents are aware of their right to vote, and have the tools needed to exercise it, regardless of where they are stationed, and to provide the tools and resources they need to exercise their right to vote. This includes ey do this in a variety of ways, such as voting assistance officers within units, voting assistance offices on installations, and disseminating information electronically and in other ways to service members and family members families. 

By law, the Inspector General offices of each of the service must conduct annual reviews of the compliance and effectiveness of their voting assistance programs each year, and an annual review of the compliance with the voting assistance programs.  

However, there is no standard definition of "compliance" in either federal law or in DoD regulations, which is causing inconsistencies, according to the IG. Each service IG determined and reported on their service's voting assistance program compliance in a different manner. The different processes that the services use produced subjective results "that were difficult to understand or verify," the IG reported stated. The law and DoD No regulations don't specify the criteria or process for to use to assessing the voting assistance programs. 

As a result, the service determinations were difficult for the DoD IG to compare or verify. These inconsistencies may make it difficult for members of Congress and others to determine whether the voting assistance programs are meeting requirements for assisting troops and families who want to vote.

The IG recommends that the DoD's Federal Voting Assistance Program (FVAP) office work with the services' Inspector General offices of each of the services  on a DoD-wide definition of compliance. FVAP officials told Military Times they plan to do so.

The IG office noted that because of the short timeframe of the assessment, they weren't able to give the FVAP DoD Federal Voting Assistance Program office the opportunity to officially respond, before publishing publication of the final report. They've asked for a written response. 

FVAP officials will work with service  inspectors general and other officials to help establish a standard DoD definition of what compliance with the voting assistance program means, said FVAP spokeswoman Mandi Richmond. offer assistance to the services' inspectors general and to the senior service voting representatives to help establish a standard DoD definition of Voting Assistance Program compliance, said FVAP spokeswoman Mandi Richmond, a spokeswoman for the Federal Voting Assistance Program, in a response to questions. Thus The service IGs will uniformly report to the DoD IG, which may help in the review of the services' compliance reviews, said FVAP spokeswoman Mandi Richmond.

"As always, our ultimate goal is to help ensure every service member and their families are aware of their right to vote, and have the tools and resources to successfully do so."

The inspectors general of all but one service — the Navy — found their services' voting assistance programs to be in compliance in 2015.

The Navy IG reported that its service's voting assistance program was not fully compliant and determined that the Navy needs a means of effectively communicating and quickly disseminating voting information.

Some Navy installation voting assistance officers weren’t providing voter assistance to all potentially eligible personnel, and the installation VAOs were not located in well-advertised areas extensively visited by personnel, family members and DoD civilians. Navy voting assistance program officials are currently assessing the locations, operating hours and marketing to increase awareness of the voting assistance resources and are working with the FVAP office DoD Federal Voting Assistance Program office to increase the compatibility of the FVAP portal with Navy networks.

Karen Jowers covers military families, quality of life and consumer issues for Military Times. She can be reached at

Karen has covered military families, quality of life and consumer issues for Military Times for more than 30 years, and is co-author of a chapter on media coverage of military families in the book "A Battle Plan for Supporting Military Families." She previously worked for newspapers in Guam, Norfolk, Jacksonville, Fla., and Athens, Ga.

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