Samuel F. Wright

Captain, JAGC, USN (Ret.)
Director, Service Members Law Center
(800) 809-9448, ext. 730
Email: swright@roa.org
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LAW REVIEW 1058

LAW REVIEW 1058

Vote Early and Vote Often: You must now apply separately for absentee ballots for each election.

By Captain Samuel F. Wright, JAGC, USN (Ret.)

Recent amendments to the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act (UOCAVA) now require servicemembers who are overseas on active duty to request an absentee ballot from their local election officials (LEO) even if they had already requested an absentee ballot in 2008. Servicemembers still on active duty must submit a new Federal Post Card Application (FPCA) this year.

Codified in title 42, U.S. Code, sections 1973ff through 1973ff-6. Congress enacted UOCAVA in 1986, as a consolidation of two earlier acts: the Federal Voting Assistance Act (for military personnel and families) and the Overseas Citizens Voting Rights Act (for civilian U.S. citizens overseas). Congress has amended UOCAVA several times, most recently in October 2009.

In 2002, as part of the Help America Vote Act, Congress amended UOCAVA to require that each LEO send out multiple absentee ballots, for multiple elections through the next two election cycles, based on one completed FPCA. For example, let us assume that Sgt Joe Brown submitted a completed FPCA in early 2006. He received absentee ballots for the 2006 primary and general election, and the 2008 primary and general election, plus any special elections for federal office, all based on that one completed FPCA. In 2009, as part of the Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment Act, Congress repealed this provision requiring LEOs to mail multiple ballots based on a single completed FPCA.

UOCAVA is a floor and not a ceiling on military and overseas voting rights. State law can give UOCAVA voters greater or additional rights, such as the right to vote for state and local offices as well as federal offices. State law cannot deprive the UOCAVA voter of his or her federal rights. A state could conceivably provide for multiple ballot mailings for multiple elections, although this is no longer required by federal law. But for planning purposes, you should assume that you need to submit a new FPCA this year.

Congress had good reason to repeal the requirement to send out multiple absentee ballots, for multiple elections, based on a single application. LEOs complained that this requirement was most wasteful and did not help the military voter. Sgt Brown, who voted by absentee ballot in 2006, was probably at a new duty station, with a new mailing address, in 2008. In some cases, he was no longer on active duty. LEOs complained that thousands of unmarked absentee ballots were returned by the U.S. Postal Service as undeliverable.

If you are a UOCAVA voter—member of the uniformed services on active duty, voting-age family member of a uniformed services voter, or U.S. citizen outside the United States temporarily or permanently—you should use the FPCA to request your absentee ballot. You can obtain a blank FPCA from the Voting Assistance Officer of your military unit or at a U.S. embassy or consulate. Alternatively, go to www.fvap.gov to complete the FPCA online. That is the website of the Federal Voting Assistance Program, in the Department of Defense. The website can also provide you the proper address to send your completed FPCA.

It is not too early to submit your completed FPCA for the 2010 general election. UOCAVA explicitly overrides state “not earlier than” rules. You can submit your completed FPCA at any time during the calendar year of the election. If you are uncertain of the mailing address where you will be in early October, when your ballot will likely be delivered, go ahead and submit the FPCA, and then contact the LEO by telephone or e-mail to provide the address where you want your ballot to be sent.