Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act

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The Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act (UOCAVA) was enacted by Congress in 1986. UOCAVA requires that the states and territories allow certain groups of citizens to register and vote absentee in elections for Federal offices. In addition, most states and territories have their own laws allowing citizens covered by UOCAVA to register and vote absentee in state and local elections as well.

United States citizens covered by UOCAVA include:

  • members of the United States Uniformed Services and merchant marine;
  • their family members; and
  • United States citizens residing outside the United States.

Among its key provisions, UOCAVA provides for an application called the Federal Post Card Application that qualified servicemembers and overseas citizens can use to register to vote and request an absentee ballot simultaneously. The law also allows for the use of a "back-up" ballot for federal offices, called the Federal Write-In Absentee Ballot. This ballot may be cast by voters covered by the Act who have made timely application for, but have not received, their regular ballot from their state or territory, subject to certain conditions.

In 2009, a subtitle of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2010, titled the Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment Act ("MOVE Act"), amended UOCAVA to establish new voter registration and absentee ballot procedures which states must follow in all federal elections. The amended UOCAVA is available here.

Most of these new procedures were implemented by the November 2010 general election. As amended by the MOVE Act, UOCAVA now requires state officials to:

  • provide UOCAVA voters with an option to request and receive voter registration and absentee ballot applications by electronic transmissions and establish electronic transmission options for delivery of blank absentee ballots to UOCAVA voters;
  • transmit validly-requested absentee ballots to UOCAVA voters no later than 45 days before an election for a federal office, when the request has been received by that date, except where an undue hardship waiver is approved by the Department of Defense for that election;
  • take steps to ensure that electronic transmission procedures protect the security of the balloting process and the privacy of the identity and personal data of UOCAVA voters using the procedures;
  • expand the acceptance of the Federal Write-In Absentee Ballot to all elections for federal office beginning December 31, 2010;
  • accept otherwise valid voter registration applications, absentee ballot applications, voted ballots, or Federal Write-In Absentee Ballots without regard to state notarization requirements, or restrictions on paper type, or envelope type; and
  • allow UOCAVA voters to track the receipt of their absentee ballots through a free access system.

Click here to read the statute.
Updated February 26, 2018

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