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 1298

October 2012

Now that You Are Retired from the Army, You Must Register To Vote in Virginia

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

7.0—Military Voting Rights

Q:  I have been on active duty in the Army for the last 29 years.  I retired just days ago, on September 30, 2012.  I lived in Florida when I joined the Army 29 years ago, and all these years I have maintained my Florida domicile, partly because Florida has no state income tax.  I have voted by absentee ballot in my Florida home town in each major election in the last 29 years.

I spent my last three years on active duty in the Pentagon, and I bought a house in Arlington, an easy commute to the Pentagon.  I did not consider that house to be my domicile, but maybe things are different now that I am retired.  When I retired this past Sunday, I remained in the house where I have lived for the last two years.  I still work in the Pentagon, as an employee of a defense contractor.  Am I still eligible to vote by absentee ballot in Florida?  Am I still exempt from having to pay Virginia state income tax?

A:  The answer to both questions is clearly no.  For the last 29 years, while you have been on active duty, you have been protected by the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA).[1]  The SCRA provides important protections to members of the uniformed services who are on active duty.  As of midnight on September 30, you are no longer on active duty, and these protections no longer apply to you.

For the civilian (including a service member who has left active duty by retirement or otherwise), the place where the individual usually sleeps is his or her domicile, unless that usual sleeping place is temporary (for a period of months, at most).  Federal law creates a different rule for active duty service members, because they must go where assigned and do not get to choose where to live.  Your protection under that federal law ended the moment you left active duty.  Until September 30, your house in Arlington was not your domicile, but as of October 1 it is your domicile.  This is by operation of law—it is not a matter of your choice or intent.

As of October 1, you are no longer a Floridian, and you are no longer eligible to vote in Florida.  If you are to vote in the 2012 general election, you need to register to vote in Arlington and then vote in person on Election Day.  The Virginia voter registration deadline is October 15, 2012.  To register to vote in Virginia, go to http://www.sbe.virginia.gov/.  This is the website of the Virginia State Board of Elections.  Most other states have similar websites.

As of October 1, you are no longer exempt from having to pay Virginia state income tax.  In early 2013, you will need to file a “part year” 2012 Virginia income tax return.  For the last three months of 2012, you will need to pay Virginia income tax on your Army retired pay and also on any other income that you receive, including your salary with the defense contractor.  You will need to pay Virginia income tax for all of 2013, unless you move to another state sometime during the year. 

Readers:  If you are not on active duty, you need to be registered to vote at your current residence address.  If you have moved, whether across the street or across the country, you need to change your voter registration to your new address (if you are still within the same county or municipality) or register to vote in your new jurisdiction.  The time to do this is now.  Voter registration deadlines vary from 10 to 30 days before Election Day, and the deadline is fast approaching.

Don’t let anybody tell you that you must wait six months or a year before you register to vote in a new county or state.  Forty years ago, the Supreme Court held such durational residence requirements to be unconstitutional.  See Dunn v. Blumstein, 405 U.S. 330 (1972).  You can register to vote on the very day that you move into a new county or state, and if you register by the deadline you can vote for all offices, not just federal offices.



[1] Congress enacted the SCRA in 2003, as a long-overdue rewrite of the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Civil Relief Act (SSCRA), which dates back to 1917.  Under both the SSCRA and the SCRA, you have had important federal law protections relating to your domicile for voting and tax purposes.