The Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act of 1986 ("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.

Frequently Asked Questions

Who does UOCAVA protect?

The protections of UOCAVA apply to: (1) members of the uniformed services on active duty and the merchant marine who, because of their membership in the service, are absent from their place of residence, and are otherwise qualified to vote; (2) the spouses and dependents of these uniformed services voters who are absent due to the member's active duty or service and (3) qualified voters who reside outside of the United States.

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 if a request is received by the 30th day before the election; (2) send you an absentee ballot early enough to receive it, vote it, and send it back, specifically by the 45th day before the election, if a request is received by that date; (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 is a Federal Write-In Absentee Ballot (FWAB)?

The Federal Write-In Absentee Ballot (FWAB) is an official blank write-in ballot that all UOCAVA voters can use as an emergency “back-up” ballot if they have made a timely request for an absentee ballot from the state or county but do not receive it in time to send it back by their state's deadline. UOCAVA requires states to accept FWABs in all elections for federal office. If a UOCAVA voter receives a state-issued ballot after having already sent in a FWAB, the FVAP recommends that the voter vote that ballot and send it in. A state will only count one of the ballots. You can find more information on obtaining and voting a FWAB on the FVAP website.

If a county is late in mailing absentee ballots to soldiers or U.S. citizens living overseas, what can the Department of Justice do?

Under Section 105 of UOCAVA, the Attorney General is authorized to bring civil actions to enforce UOCAVA requirements. When states have failed to make sure that ballots are sent to qualified UOCAVA protected voters in a timely manner, the Department of Justice has successfully obtained court orders and consent decrees. Many of these have required states to extend their deadlines for receiving these ballots and to count such 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 has ensured that qualified servicemembers and overseas voters were able to cast their ballots, and know that they were counted.

Who can I contact if I have a question about my right to vote?

The FVAP administers many of the federal responsibilities under UOCAVA, and assists servicemembers, their families and overseas voters to facilitate their participation in the voting process.  If you need assistance in registering or voting under UOCAVA, you can contact FVAP.  If you believe you have been denied any of the rights guaranteed by UOCAVA, you can contact the Voting Section of the Civil Rights Division, Department of Justice. 

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 June 30, 2020

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