PARKERSBURG -Wood County commissioners on Monday authorized the county clerk's office to prepare a proposal for a pilot program to test online absentee voting for military and citizens living overseas.
Legislation allowing a pilot program for the 2010 election, called The "Uniformed Services and Overseas Voter Pilot Program," passed Nov. 19 during the special legislative session and was signed by the governor on Dec. 3.
The commissioners talked with County Clerk Jamie Six by phone conference on Monday about the project.
"As we understand, there is $150,000 available statewide in grant funding for the program, which may include five counties. There are two companies that have expressed interest in the program," noted Mark Rhodes with the county clerk's office.
"We were just notified that the deadline is Jan. 8 to have this proposal in, so with your schedule, we wanted to discuss this with you so we get your approval to move ahead with it," Six said, noting a proposal would be turned over to the commissioners hopefully in the next few days for their review.
"I was told during a recent career day at the armory that local military personnel are being deployed again in February, so I think that makes it even more important for us to be involved," the clerk said.
"We can withdraw up until we are asked for a budget, for the funds, if we decide we don't want to participate," Rhodes said.
Currently, military personnel and citizens living overseas can vote absentee by mail. They send in a request to the clerk's office, which then mails them an absentee ballot. "We keep track of the ballots that go out, and what we receive back," Rhodes said.
Participation in the pilot online voting program will assist counties and the state in identifying areas for potential modification as larger pilot programs are authorized by the federal government under the Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment Act. The pilot programs are only applicable to the primary and general elections in 2010. Once developed, the pilot programs would be evaluated and reports submitted to the Legislature so that minimum voting system requirements could be developed.
Proposals for the pilot program are due Jan. 8. Counties chosen are to be notified by the end of January.
There are 42,000 West Virginians eligible for the online absentee voting service. There were only about 4,200 who actually voted absentee ballots in the last general election, according to state elections officials.
Counties selected to participate will set up an online system where the military and overseas voters receive a security code to go online to a secure Web site and access a ballot. Once the person has cast their ballot that vote is transmitted to the county to a secure computer. Not only is this system secure, but it ensures the privacy of the voter and their vote, according to the secretary of state's office.
"The ballot is stored on the server until election day, and at that time the clerk and commissioners would log in and results would be tallied," Rhodes said.