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 1291

September 2012

Please Contact your Local Election Official Today!

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

7.0—Military voting rights

There are young men and women from your county, city, or town serving on active duty in the armed forces.  They want to vote and have the right to vote in the general election to be held on November 6.  The problem is that military personnel are subject to being moved around the world with little or no notice, and when they are deployed their mail service is often slow and intermittent.  Absentee ballots for these service members need to go out this week, if they have not already gone out, so that these service members from your community will have time to receive their ballots, mark them, and return them on time to be counted, no matter where the service of our country has taken them.

The Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act (UOCAVA), a federal statute enacted in 1986, gives active duty service members, military family members, and U.S. citizens outside the United States the right to vote by absentee ballot for federal offices.  As amended in 2009, UOCAVA now explicitly (it was implicit before) requires every state to mail ballots to UOCAVA voters not later than the 45th day before Election Day.  See title 42, United States Code, section 1973ff-1(a)(8)(A) [42 U.S.C. 1973ff-1(a)(8)(A)].

This means that your local election official (LEO) must send absentee ballots to UOCAVA voters (military and civilian) who have applied for such ballots by this Saturday, September 22.  Please contact your LEO today—ensure that the official is aware of the deadline and is planning to meet it.  Please call again on Monday, September 24, to ensure that the ballots have in fact gone out.  Please let me know as soon as possible if your LEO expects to miss or has missed the September 22 deadline.  It may be possible to get court ordered relief if your LEO is late in sending out ballots.  Such relief could include requiring the LEO to mail out the unmarked ballots by expedited means (FEDEX, e-mail, etc.) and a court ordered extension on the deadline for the receipt of the marked absentee ballot.

Please understand that ballots need to go out by Saturday for military personnel, even if they are currently serving within the United States.  Sergeant Jones is currently at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, but he will be deploying to Afghanistan in early October.  It is important that he receive his ballot now, before he deploys.

You can reach me toll-free at 800-809-9448, ext. 730.  My e-mail is SWright@roa.org.

Most states conduct absentee voting at the county level, or parishes in Louisiana.  In the New England states, Michigan, and Wisconsin, absentee voting is conducted by cities, towns, and townships, which are considerably smaller and more numerous than counties.  There are 1,851 LEOs in Wisconsin alone.  Only Alaska, Maine, and the District of Columbia conduct absentee voting centrally at the state level.

Your LEO will most likely be an elected official, like the County Clerk. 

The LEO will be affected by your call.  And after you contact your own LEO, please contact the LEOs in several nearby counties as well.

Time, distance, and military regulations preclude active duty service members from speaking for themselves on this issue, to protest their disenfranchisement.  It is important that those of us who have already served contact LEOs on their behalf, to remind those officials of the importance of getting the absentee ballots out this week.