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.
Provisions of UOCAVA
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.
Administration of UOCAVA
The Secretary of Defense has administrative responsibilities for UOCAVA. Within the Department of Defense, the Secretary has assigned these responsibilities to the Federal Voting Assistance Program (FVAP). The FVAP actively monitors the voter registration and absentee voting opportunities provided to members of the Armed Forces, their family members, and U.S. citizens covered by UOCAVA. It works closely with the States to assure that citizens covered by UOCAVA have a full opportunity to participate in Federal elections.
The FVAP maintains a website where you will find detailed information about UOCAVA voting procedures and materials, including instructions for obtaining and using the Federal Post Card Application (FPCA) and the Federal Write-in Absentee Ballot (FWAB).
You can also contact the FVAP at:
Federal Voting Assistance Program
Department of Defense
4800 Mark Center Drive
Alexandria, VA 22350-5000
U.S. Toll-free: (800) 438-8683
Enforcement of UOCAVA
Under Section 105 of UOCAVA, the Attorney General is authorized to bring civil actions to enforce its requirements. The Attorney General has assigned this enforcement responsibility to the Civil Rights Division. Since UOCAVA was enacted, the Civil Rights Division has brought numerous enforcement lawsuits.
UOCAVA Case Examples
- United States v. State of Arizona (D. Ariz.) On February 15, 2018, the court entered an agreement in United States v. State of Arizona (D. Ariz.). The agreement remedies violations of UOCAVA alleged in the Department’s complaint, filed simultaneously with the agreement on February 14. The complaint alleges that the state violated UOCAVA because it was not able to transmit final absentee ballots to UOCAVA voters at least 45 days in advance of the February 27, 2018, special primary election in Congressional District 8. Among other things, the agreement provided additional time for receipt of UOCAVA ballots to ensure that eligible military and overseas voters will have sufficient time to vote in the special primary election. It also provided additional steps, if needed, to protect voters for the April 24, 2018, special general election. The agreement also required Defendants to take the actions necessary to ensure UOCAVA compliance in future special federal elections, and in 2018, Arizona adopted legislation to enlarge the special election timeline to allow election officials to timely transmit UOCAVA ballots to military and overseas voters.
- United States v. West Virginia: On December 22, 2014, the court in United States v. State of West Virginia (S.D. W.Va.), a case brought to enforce the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act ("UOCAVA"), issued its decision and entered judgment for the United States. The court ordered West Virginia to count the votes for Federal office contained on certain UOCAVA ballots at issue in the case and include them in the final vote totals for the November 4, 2014 Federal general election. The case remedied violations of UOCAVA that arose after the State had transmitted ballots to military and overseas voters by September 20, the 45th day before the Federal general election as required by UOCAVA. On October 1, the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals ordered that a replacement candidate in a State Delegate District be added to the ballot and that corrected ballots be transmitted to all absentee voters in that district. West Virginia applied to the Secretary of Defense for a waiver of UOCAVA's requirement that ballots be transmitted to UOCAVA voters 45 days in advance of the Federal general election, which was denied on October 20, 2014. On October 31, the Department filed a complaint alleging that West Virginia had violated UOCAVA by failing to ensure that final absentee ballots were transmitted to UOCAVA voters at least 45 days in advance of the November 4, 2014 Federal general election. A consent decree was entered by the court on November 3, 2014, which among other things, extended the deadline to November 17, 2014, for receipt of corrected UOCAVA ballots if the ballots were executed on or before November 4, 2014 and returned by postal or express mail. The Department further sought an injunction requiring West Virginia to count the votes for Federal office on each of the original UOCAVA ballots returned by express or postal mail by November 17, 2014, if that ballot was the only ballot returned by the voter. That injunction was granted on December 22, 2014.