[Image courtesy of DODLive]
On Friday, I got word that Bob Carey, director of the Pentagon's Federal Voting Assistance Program (FVAP) is leaving in June to join a bipartisan lobbying firm in DC. As Bob's time at FVAP draws to a close after three years, I want to wish him well - and use the opportunity to talk about the challenges of pushing for change in the field of election administration.
Bob came to FVAP in June 2009 after years of working to improve military and overseas voting - first on his own and then in coordination with The Pew Center on the States. Indeed, Bob contributed research to Pew's groundbreaking January 2009 report No Time To Vote, which highlighted the problems facing Americans around the world and made recommendations that eventually formed the basis for Congress' enactment of the Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment (MOVE) Act of 2009.
Following passage of the MOVE Act, Bob was selected as the new director of FVAP and quickly changed the office from a quiet and largely inconsequential entity into a primary catalyst for reform of the voting experience of Americans abroad.
Being Director of FVAP isn't an easy job; on one hand, you have Congressional critics who cannot understand why the federal government isn't doing more to help overseas Americans - especially military servicemembers - cast timely and valid ballots. On the other hand, you have a growing community of technologists and advocates who are deeply skeptical about the feasibility - to say nothing of the desirability - of expanded electronic and Internet voting for MOVE Act voters. Finally, you have a Pentagon contracting system whose speed in getting money out to the field leave a lot(!) to be desired.
Notwithstanding all of these challenges - and the virtual certainty that anything he did would displease someone - Bob kept moving forward with his efforts to expand MOVE Act compliance, address Congressional frustration and even recast the statistics about participation rates among military and overseas voters. He didn't always succeed, but he kept trying - and that is a legacy from which his successor(s) at FVAP and elsewhere in the field of elections can and should learn.
There are so many moving parts and interrelated issues in the field of elections that it's easy (maybe too easy) to stick with what's known and hope for improvement at the margins. I've often been guilty of it - and will certainly be so again. I didn't always agree with Bob Carey, but I never stopped admiring his desire to make things better for military and overseas voters. I'm happy for him in this next stage of his professional career but I can say that in many ways the field will miss him.