Women in Elections: Meghan Kelly, Federal Voting Assistance Program

Mar 14, 2018

The EAC has launched a “Women in Elections” campaign to coincide with Women’s History Month. During the month of March, we will interview several women at the heart of elections at the federal, Secretary of State, state election director and county level and share the significant insight they have to share about elections on the EAC’s Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Follow the conversation online at #WomeninElections.

Today, we are beginning the series with a conversation between EAC Vice Chair Christy McCormick and Meghan Kelly, State Legislative Affairs Specialist for the Federal Voting Assistance Program (FVAP).

Christy, EAC: Thank you for joining me for this series, Meghan. I wanted to start by asking you how your career in elections began.

Meghan, FVAP: The short answer: good, old fashion, Irish luck. The longer answer is that I was working in government affairs in Florida and wanted to apply my experiences on a federal level. Civil service has been a tradition in my family and I wanted to keep that going. I joined the Federal Voting Assistance Program, which is a program within the Department of Defense, in October 2015 and the rest is history. Working at the intersection of the Department of Defense and elections is a very special place to be, and one I’m honored to be a part of. I’ll have to find a leprechaun to kiss before this luck runs out!

Christy, EAC: For those not familiar with the program, FVAP works to ensure Service members, their eligible family members and overseas citizens are aware of their right to vote and have the resources to successfully do so – from anywhere in the world. Could you discuss some of the challenges these voters face when trying to cast a ballot?

Meghan, FVAP: The biggest are those surrounding myths associated with the absentee process for military and overseas voters, awareness of FVAP resources and their overall separation from their voting residence. For personnel stationed overseas, the additional lead time required for successfully casting an absentee ballot remains a challenge that FVAP and election officials try to overcome.

The psychology of pervasive myths such as common misnomers that absentee ballots aren’t counted unless it’s a close election, that military voters can’t vote if they are deployed, or that overseas citizens will be able to vote at an Embassy or Consulate, are also challenging. Through training, education, and communications with the military and overseas communities, we’re able to dispel these myths.

FVAP resources are plentiful and specifically designed for military and overseas voters, we just have to get them in their hands. These voters are often away from home and family, or perhaps in places with limited infrastructure, so we work hard to make sure they know that FVAP has the resources to make the absentee voting process as easy as possible.

Christy, EAC: FVAP produces a number of resources to make the process of voting for service members and overseas citizens easier to understand. One of my favorites is the Voting Assistance Guide, which serves as a reference guide for absentee voting for all 55 states, territories and the District of Columbia. Describe the impact you have seen from this guide and other tools like it.

Meghan, FVAP: The Voting Assistance Guide is a very special resource at FVAP. The Guide is both a physical book that gets shipped around the world to military installations, Embassies and Consulates and also the digital outline of our FVAP.gov website.

The Guide is one central resource that military and overseas voters, and those assisting voters, can use to find election dates and deadlines, state rules and guidelines for completing the Federal Postcard Application or Federal Write-In Absentee Ballot, and contact information of local election officials from every state and territory. The idea is if a Service member has the Federal Postcard Application and Guide in front of them, they will be able to accurately complete that Federal Postcard Application using information found in the Guide, resulting in a successful registration and absentee ballot request.

We get a lot of questions about why we even bother to print the Guide anymore, as all the information can be accessed on our website. But the reality is we are tasked with assisting Service members, so we must think of the deployed Service members with limited access to online resources. Because of that, our 2016 Report to Congress reported that the Guide and FVAP.gov were both rated as our most useful resources by Voting Assistance Officers.

Christy, EAC: For nearly 15 years, the EAC has partnered with FVAP on the Election Administration & Voting Survey (EAVS), the most comprehensive nationwide data about election administration in the United States. Data in the most recent EAVS shows the number of ballots transmitted to overseas civilians increased by 23 percent from 2012 to 2016. What do you attribute this increase to?

Meghan, FVAP: This is a great question because it highlights how important it is to work with other governmental organizations to help consolidate efforts and avoid duplication when trying to gather the most accurate data possible and identify areas of improvement or celebrate success.

In late 2018, FVAP will be releasing a second Overseas Population Analysis on data collected from a survey of overseas civilian voters during the 2016 election. We’re eager to see the results so that we can further identify the increase identified in EAVS. Although we try not to speculate too much, the specific data point on the increased number of ballots transmitted to overseas civilians could be attributed to anything from an increased interest in the election, to marketing, or to the reduction of burdens on the voter in the absentee voting process.

Christy, EAC: What are some of the projects and advancements that you are most proud of during your time at FVAP?

Meghan, FVAP: First and foremost, I am proud of the team I work with at FVAP. They come from varying walks of life, some former Service members, some having spent years living abroad, and some former election officials. With all of that knowledge, we’re able to connect with our customers and overcome challenges with professionalism.

Secondly, I am proud of the reputation FVAP has built. FVAP is now recognized as the subject matter expert on UOCAVA voting and voters, and organizations are noticing the excellent research we producing on the nuances of UOCAVA voting, specifically policy research aimed at reducing obstacles associated with UOCAVA absentee voting.

In terms of where FVAP has been and where it is going, our customers drive our products.  This is evident in our recent release of a direct-to-the-voter training video which provides a quick summary of key items our active duty personnel need to know for 2018.  This is also a reflection of how we support the Services and explore ways to use FVAP as a shared resource so our military can focus on their core missions.

We at the EAC would like to thank Meghan for her insight. Keep checking our blog for conversations with “Women in Elections” throughout Women’s History Month and help us celebrate these leaders in the election community.

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