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The MOVE Act

October 21, 2010

Enacted in 1986, the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act (UOCAVA) protects the right of servicemembers to vote in federal elections regardless of where they are stationed. This law requires that states and territories allow members of the United States Uniformed Services and merchant marine, their family members, and United States citizens residing outside the United States to register and vote absentee in elections for Federal offices. UOCAVA was expanded significantly in 2009, when Congress passed the Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment (MOVE) Act to provide greater protections for servicemembers, their families and other overseas citizens.  One critical change brought about by MOVE requires states to transmit absentee ballots to voters covered under UOCAVA no later than 45 days before federal elections. Since the passage of the MOVE Act, the Department of Justice has worked to aggressively enforce UOCAVA and the MOVE Act in order to ensure that all military and overseas voters can access their right to vote, and have their votes counted, in the upcoming federal elections in November.  The Department has reached agreements with and/or brought actions against several states and territories after they did not comply with the 45-day requirement.

  • On Sept. 15, 2010, the department announced its agreement with Alaska, which expedited the candidate certification procedures for its Aug. 24, 2010, primary election so that it was able to send out an official absentee ballot to all UOCAVA voters no later than Sept. 18, 2010.
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  • On Sept. 17, the department announced its agreement with Colorado, which required the state to ensure that its counties sent an official absentee ballot to UOCAVA voters no later than Sept. 18, 2010, thus ensuring that eligible military and overseas voters have at least 45 days to receive, cast and return their ballots in time for them to be counted in the Nov. 2, 2010, election.
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  • Under the department’s agreement with the District of Columbia, the District sent absentee ballots to military and overseas voters no later than October 4, and will provide additional time -- until Nov. 19, 2010 -- for receipt of absentee ballots. The District passed emergency rules embodying these new deadlines, which will ensure that eligible military and overseas voters have at least 45 days to receive, cast and return their ballots in time for them to be counted in the Nov. 2, 2010, election.
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  • Last week, the Department of Justice filed a new lawsuit against Guam for failing to mail ballots to affected voters by the Sept. 18, 2010 deadline. On Oct. 13, 2010, a district court granted the United States’ request for a permanent injunction and declaratory relief.
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  • Hawaii’s primary election on Sept. 18, 2010, precluded the state from sending absentee ballots to military and overseas voters by the MOVE Act’s ballot transmittal deadline of September 18 -- the 45th day before the November 2 federal general election. The department and the state reached an agreement requiring Hawaii to send out ballots by express delivery service no later than Sept. 24, 2010, and to provide voters with the means to return their completed ballots by express delivery free of charge.
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  • On Oct. 15, 2010, the department announced its agreement with Kansas after state officials informed the department that seven of its counties failed to send ballots by the Sept. 18, 2010, deadline. Under the agreement, the state will take actions to ensure that counties provide at least 45 days for the transmission, execution and return of ballots to all qualified UOCAVA voters who requested absentee ballots on or before Sept. 18, 2010, and will extend the receipt deadlines in those counties as commensurate with the delay in each of those counties in sending ballots.
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  • Following inquiries from the department, Mississippi state officials reported that the ballots for UOCAVA voters from 22 counties who had requested ballots on or before Sept. 18, 2010, were not sent at least 45 days before the federal general election. Under its agreement with the department, announced Oct. 15, 2010, Mississippi will extend the deadline for the receipt of ballots from military and overseas voters.
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  • On Oct. 8, 2010, the department announced that it reached an agreement with Nevada officials. To address the state’s MOVE Act violation and permit these voters to have a 45-day period to receive, mark and return their ballots, the Nevada Secretary of State adopted an emergency regulation to provide an additional six days, until 5:00 p.m. PDT on November 8, for Elko County’s UOCAVA voters to return their ballots, provided they are executed and sent by Election Day.
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  • Earlier last week, on Oct. 13, 2010, the department announced its agreement with New Mexico officials. The agreement was filed in conjunction with a lawsuit by the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division alleging that election officials in six New Mexico counties violated federal law when they failed to transmit ballots by Sept. 18, 2010, to military and overseas voters who requested absentee ballots.
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  • On Oct. 12, 2010, the department announced that it has filed a lawsuit against the state of New York. On Oct. 15, 2010, the department, the state and the State Board of Elections signed a consent decree that they have submitted to the federal court in Albany for its approval.
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  • The department’s agreement with Wisconsin, which was filed at the same time as a lawsuit by the Civil Rights Division, provides additional time – until Nov. 19, 2010 – for receipt of absentee ballots to ensure eligible military and overseas voters have sufficient time to cast and return their votes and to have them counted.
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  • Finally, the department reached an agreement with the U.S. Virgin Islands, which committed to sending absentee ballots for federal office (the Virgin Islands’ Delegate to Congress) on or before Sept. 18, the 45th day before the election.

  More information about UOCAVA and other federal voting laws is available on the Department of Justice website . Complaints may be reported to the Voting Section of the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division at 1-800-253-3931.

Topic(s): 
Servicemembers Initiative
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Updated March 3, 2017