Voting

The Department defends military voting rights by enforcing the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act of 1986 ("UOCAVA"), and the Initiative works to ensure that this important work may continue.  Signed into law on August 28, 1986, UOCAVA requires that states allow certain groups of citizens to both register and vote absentee in elections for federal offices.  The law defines the term “state” broadly, including Guam, the District of Columbia, the Virgin Islands, American Samoa and the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico in that definition.  The law does not apply to non-federal elections.  Individuals covered by UOCAVA include active duty members of the uniformed services, mariners in the United States Merchant Marine, the commissioned corps of the Public Health Service and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, eligible family members associated with these three groups, and citizens of the United States who are residing outside of the country.

About UOCAVA

What Does UOCAVA Require?

UOCAVA requires that states allow certain groups of citizens to both register and vote absentee in elections for federal offices.  

Who Receives The Protections Of UOCAVA?

Individuals covered by UOCAVA include active duty members of the uniformed services, mariners in the United States Merchant Marine, the commissioned corps of the Public Health Service and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, eligible family members associated with these three groups, and citizens of the United States who are residing outside of the country.

What Rights Does UOCAVA Give Me?

If you are a qualified voter protected by UOCAVA, in elections for federal office, the state in which you are qualified to vote must: 1) permit you to register to vote and request an absentee ballot; 2) send you an absentee ballot early enough, in most cases by the 45th day before the election, to give you time to receive it, vote it, and send it back, if you requested it by the deadline; 3) permit you to request and receive your voter registration form, absentee ballot request, and blank absentee ballot electronically; 4) permit you to cast a Federal Write-In Absentee Ballot under certain conditions; 5) provide you with free access to a tracking system that tells you whether your ballot has been received by the appropriate state election official; and 6) accept otherwise-valid voted ballots even if they are not notarized, and even if they are printed on a nonstandard paper size or sent in a nonstandard type envelope.

What Are Some Of The States’ Obligations Under UOCAVA?

As amended by another law called the Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment Act of 2009 (“MOVE”), UOCAVA requires state officials to: 1) provide UOCAVA covered voters with an option to request and receive voter registrations and absentee ballot applications electronically; 2) create electronic delivery options for the transmission of blank absentee ballots to UOCAVA covered voters; 3) transmit validly and timely requested absentee ballots to UOCAVA covered voters no later than 45 days before a federal election; 4) implement safeguards to ensure that the privacy of the voter’s identity and other personal data associated with registering and voting under UOCAVA procedures is protected; 5) implement safeguards to ensure that electronic transmission procedures protect the security and integrity of the balloting process; 6) accept otherwise valid voter registration applications, absentee ballot applications, voted ballots, or “back-up” ballots for federal offices called the Federal Write-In Absentee Ballot (FWAB) without regard to state notarization requirements or restrictions on paper and envelope type; and 6) allow UOCAVA covered voters to track the receipt of their absentee ballots through a free access system.

What Is A Federal Write-In Absentee Ballot (FWAB)?

A Federal Write-In Absentee Ballot (FWAB) is an official, “back-up,” blank, write-in ballot that all UOCAVA voters can use if they have made a timely request for an absentee ballot from the state or county in time to send it back by their state’s deadline. UOCAVA now requires states to accept these ballots in all elections for federal office. If a UOCAVA covered voter receives an official state-issued ballot after having already sent in a FWAB, the Department of Defense’s Federal Voting Assistance Program recommends that the servicemember vote that official ballot and send it in.  A state will only count one of the two ballots.

How Does The Department Of Justice Enforce UOCAVA?

The Attorney General is authorized to bring civil actions to enforce UOCAVAs requirements.  When states have failed to make sure that ballots are sent to qualified servicemembers in a timely manner, the Department of Justice has successfully obtained court orders and consent decrees (settlements).  Many of these have required states to extend their deadlines for receiving these ballots and to count the late-mailed ballots, even when they arrived after Election Day.  In some cases, the states were required to make permanent changes to their laws or procedures to make sure the problems are not repeated in future elections.  Through these cases brought to enforce the federal law, the Department of Justice has ensured that qualified servicemembers were able to cast their ballots, and know that they were counted.

How Do I File A UOCAVA Complaint With The Department Of Justice?

The Department of Defense’s Federal Voting Assistance Program (FVAP) administers many of the federal responsibilities under UOCAVA, and assists servicemembers and their families to facilitate their participation in the voting process.  If you believe you have been denied any of the rights guaranteed by UOCAVA, you can contact the FVAP with the details, and they can forward the relevant information to the Department of Justice for assessment.  You may reach the FVAP by clicking here.

I Have A Question The Above Information Did Not Answer

Should you have a question not answered by the above material, please fill out our question/complaint form.  We will respond to your question or complaint as soon as possible.

Updated November 15, 2016