In Virginia, nearly 2,000 ballots cast by voters overseas were initially not counted in last year’s general election. The Uniform Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act (UOCAVA) allows citizens abroad, including military personnel, the ability to vote in federal elections. The U.S. Department of Justice sued Virginia for violating the act, because of the state’s failure to count the absentee ballots. The Virginia Board of Elections contended that they were not bound by UOCAVA because it did not give a specific deadline to mail ballots out. A federal judge decided that, although this may true, the UOCAVA was established to give Americans abroad a “real chance to vote.”
In January of this year, Pew Research released a comprehensive report detailing the problems with various states’ absentee voting regulations and their impact on military voters. Their research concluded that 25 states needed to improve their voting procedures for military absentees. Some of their recommendations included mailing ballots to military voters overseas 45 days ahead of time and allowing some election related material to be sent electronically.
As a result, Congress passed The Military and Overseas Empowerment Act with bipartisan support. President Obama signed the Act, which became part of the general defense spending bill. The Act seeks to provide unequivocal guidelines governing the ability of military voters to cast ballots in federal elections. Incorporating the Pew Research findings, the Act requires that ballots be mailed out to soldiers 45 days prior to election day and also allows for ballots and registration materials to be downloaded electronically. The purpose of the bill is to eliminate any unnecessary burdens on participation by military personnel in federal elections. The bill alters traditional ballot access by allowing voters to both download ballots and submit emergency absentee ballots electronically. Ideally, the Act will be instrumental in securing the right of soldiers to participate in elections, regardless of where they happen to be stationed.
Jonathan Peterson is a student at William and Mary Law School.