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 1237

LAW REVIEW 1237

April 2012

Military Voting Rights in Wisconsin 

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

7.0—Military Voting Rights

As I explained in Law Review 1225 and other articles, Congress amended the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act (UOCAVA) in 2009.  As amended, this law now explicitly requires each state to mail out absentee ballots to UOCAVA voters (military personnel and their family members, and voting-age U.S. citizens outside our country) by the 45th day preceding each primary, general, special, or runoff election for federal office. 

On April 2 (the day before Wisconsin’s primary) the Wisconsin Reporter ran the following piece: 

In preparation for the state’s GOP presidential primary and spring election Tuesday, municipal clerks were required to send absentee ballots to overseas and military voters by February 18, or 45 days before the election, as the MOVE [Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment] Act requires for federal elections.  At least 63 of Wisconsin’s 1,851 municipal clerks failed to meet the deadline, with delays ranging from two days to nearly a month.  The latest ballots went out on March 15, one each from Jefferson and Oconto counties.

With 1,851 local election offices (LEOs), Wisconsin has more LEOs than any other state (only Michigan is close, with about 1,500).   Wisconsin alone has almost 25% of the nation’s 7,500 LEOs.  Most states conduct absentee voting at the county level (or parishes in Louisiana), but the New England states, Michigan, and Wisconsin conduct absentee voting at the level of towns and townships, which are considerably smaller and more numerous than counties.  Only Alaska, Maine, and the District of Columbia conduct absentee voting at the state level.

How does one monitor, much less affect, the performance of 1,851 LEOs in a single state?  I call upon the Wisconsin Legislature to centralize the administration of absentee voting at the state level.  There are 16,227 active duty military personnel who are eligible to vote in Wisconsin by absentee ballot, according to the Department of Defense, and all of them must be given the opportunity to cast ballots that really do get counted, no matter where the service of our country has taken them.

I also call again on readers to please contact your own LEO and the LEOs of several surrounding jurisdictions.  Is the LEO aware of the 45-day requirement?  Does the LEO expect to meet the requirement?  Please contact the LEO again on the 43rd day before the election.  This will be Monday, September 24 for the November 6 general election this year.  If you find that your LEO has missed the 45-day deadline, for whatever reason, please send an e-mail to Bob.Carey@fvap.gov and a copy to me at SWright@roa.org.  Bob Carey is the Director of the Federal Voting Assistance Program in the Department of Defense.

In most states, the LEO is also an elected official, like the County Clerk.  The LEO will pay attention to your appeal on behalf of the brave young men and women from your community who are serving in places like Afghanistan.  Time, distance, and military regulations preclude active duty service members from speaking for themselves on this issue, to protest their disenfranchisement.  It is incumbent on those of us who have already served to speak for them and to contact LEOs on their behalf.