Samuel F. Wright

Captain, JAGC, USN (Ret.)
Director, Service Members Law Center
(800) 809-9448, ext. 730
Your Subtitle text

Law Review 1202


January 2012

Vote in 2012

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

7.0—Military voting rights

Now that presidential election year 2012 has begun, it is not too early for you to submit your absentee ballot request for the 2012 primary and general election.  A federal statute called the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act (UOCAVA) specifically overrides state “not earlier than” rules with respect to a UOCAVA voter’s submission of an absentee ballot request: 

A State may not refuse to accept or process, with respect to any election for Federal office, any otherwise valid voter registration application or absentee ballot application (including the postcard form prescribed under section 1973ff of this title) submitted by an absent uniformed services voter during a year on the grounds that the voter submitted the application before the first date on which the State otherwise accepts or processes such applications for that year submitted by absentee voters who are not members of the uniformed services.

Title 42, United States Code, section 1973ff-3 (42 U.S.C. 1973ff-3).

If you are a member of the uniformed services on active duty, or if you are a voting-age family member of an active duty member, you are eligible to use the Federal Post Card Application[1] (FPCA) as a simultaneous voter registration application and absentee ballot request, under a UOCAVA.  (42 U.S.C. 1973ff-1(a)(4)).  UOCAVA applies to military personnel and family members, within or outside the United States [42 U.S.C. 1973ff-6(1)], and to U.S. citizens of voting age who are outside our country temporarily or permanently.  (42 U.S.C. 1973ff-6(5)).

If you are a UOCAVA voter, it is important that you use the FPCA, not a state absentee ballot request form.  If you use the state form, your local election official (LEO) will look for your name on the voter registration list.  If she does not find your name, she won’t send you a ballot.  If you use the FPCA, the LEO is required to send you an absentee ballot, even if you have never voted or registered to vote previously.

To complete the FPCA, go to  This is the website of the Federal Voting Assistance Program (FVAP), in the Department of Defense.  Using this well-designed website, you can prepare an FPCA that is complete, correct and legible.  The website will also provide you with signing instructions and the address of your LEO, where you are to send the application by mail.  The LEO will then send you an unmarked absentee ballot for the primary and general election.  In some states, you can submit your completed FPCA electronically, and where applicable you can do this through this website,

I realize that you may not know for sure where you will be in October 2012, when your absentee ballot for the general election will be delivered to you.  I suggest that you go ahead and submit your application for an absentee ballot now, and then obtain the name, e-mail address, and telephone number for your LEO.  When you have the correct mailing address for the 2012 general election, be sure to notify your LEO by e-mail and/or telephone.

The 2012 general election will be conducted on Tuesday, November 6.  In 2009, Congress amended UOCAVA to require LEOs to explicitly mail out ballots not later than the 45th day before Election Day.  (42 U.S.C. 1973ff-1(a)(8)(A)).  This means that your LEO should mail you your ballot by Saturday, September 22.[2]  If you do not have your general election ballot by October 1, you should complete and submit the Federal Write-in Absentee Ballot (FWAB), as provided for by 42 U.S.C. 1973ff-2.  You can complete this ballot through the FVAP website,  The FWAB is a blank ballot, without candidate names, but you can find the candidate names through the FVAP website.  By federal law, the FWAB is limited to federal offices in the general election, but some states have expanded the use of the FWAB to include primaries as well as general elections, and non-federal as well as federal offices.  You can find all the information you need at 

[1] This form is misnamed, as the 2003 version is no longer a postcard.  It folds up into a sealed envelope. 

[2] This assumes, of course, that you have your application in by that date.  Get your application in today.