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Thursday, March 14, 2013

The Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act: Overview and Issues

Kevin J. Coleman
Analyst in Elections

Members of the uniformed services and U.S. citizens who live abroad are eligible to register and vote absentee in federal elections under the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act (UOCAVA, P.L. 99-410) of 1986. The law was enacted to improve absentee registration and voting for this group of voters and to consolidate existing laws. Since 1942, a number of federal laws have been enacted to assist these voters: the Soldier Voting Act of 1942 (P.L. 77-712, amended in 1944), the Federal Voting Assistance Act of 1955 (P.L. 84-296), the Overseas Citizens Voting Rights Act of 1975 (P.L. 94-203; both the 1955 and 1975 laws were amended in 1978 to improve procedures), and the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act of 1986. The law is administered by the Secretary of Defense, who delegates that responsibility to the director of the Federal Voting Assistance Program at the Department of Defense (DOD).

Improvements to UOCAVA were necessary as the result of controversy surrounding ballots received in Florida from uniformed services and overseas voters in the 2000 presidential election. The National Defense Authorization Act for FY2002 (P.L. 107-107; S. 1438) and the Help America Vote Act (P.L. 107-252; H.R. 3295) both included provisions concerning uniformed services and overseas voting. The President signed P.L. 107-107 on December 28, 2001, and P.L. 107-252 on October 29, 2002. The Ronald W. Reagan Defense Authorization Act for FY2005 (P.L. 108-375) amended UOCAVA as well, to ease the rules for use of the federal write-in ballot in place of state absentee ballots, and the John Warner National Defense Authorization Act for FY2007 (P.L. 109-364) extended a DOD program to assist UOCAVA voters.

In the 111
th Congress, a major overhaul of UOCAVA was completed when the President signed the National Defense Authorization Act for FY2010 (P.L. 111-84) on October 28, 2009. It included an amendment (S.Amdt. 1764) that contained the provisions of S. 1415, the Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment Act (the MOVE Act).

Several relevant bills were introduced in the 112
th Congress. H.R. 702 would have prohibited a state from certifying general election results until absentee ballots were collected from uniformed services voters and delivered to election officials. H.R. 5799 included provisions that would have guaranteed residency of military personnel family members, required express or electronic delivery of ballots under certain circumstances, allowed for the use of a single ballot application for subsequent elections in the state, and applied the UOCAVA to the Northern Mariana Islands. H.R. 5828 would have permitted an absentee ballot application to be treated as an application for subsequent elections in the state through the next regular general election. S. 331 would have ensured that military voters have the right to bring a civil action under UOCAVA to safeguard their right to vote. S. 1253, the Department of Defense Authorization Act for 2012, included a provision that would have amended UOCAVA to prohibit states from rejecting voter registration or ballot applications from overseas voters under certain circumstances; the enacted House version (H.R. 1540) did not include the provision. S. 3322, among its other purposes, would have required states to issue pre-election reports about the availability and timely transmission of absentee ballots, and repealed the provision that allowed states to seek a waiver from transmission requirements.

In October 2011, both the Election Assistance Commission and the Federal Voting Assistance Program (FVAP) issued reports on participation by UOCAVA voters in the 2010 elections. FVAP announced a state grants program in May 2011, to advance electronic options for military and overseas voters.

Date of Report: March 7, 2013
Number of Pages: 22
Order Number: RS20764
Price: $29.95

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