State Legislative Initiatives
Each year the Federal Voting Assistance Program (FVAP) sends legislative initiatives to all the states and territories for consideration. The legislative initiatives the FVAP requests states and territories to consider are as follows:
45-Day Ballot Transit Time
Ballots must be sent 45 days prior to the election in order to provide adequate time for voters to receive, vote, and return ballots. Despite the requirement of Express Mail ballot return for overseas military ballots, significant delays in postal mail delivery of ballots still occurs. For example, while the average military mail delivery time to the Middle East is 11-14 days, this is only to the military post office. Follow on delivery to combat outposts and forward operating bases can add another seven to 10 days to the total transit time. For ships at sea, 20 additional days are not unusual. For ballot return, although ballots were returned in an average 5.2 days from overseas military post-offices using the Express Mail services, the delays to the remote locations discussed above still exist. For overseas citizens, the transition between foreign postal services and the US Postal Service can be complex, generating their own delays.
Additionally, accepting and counting absentee ballots that were cast up to Election Day, but received after the election, would further enfranchise these voters. Some States also chose to transmit ballots to voters more than 45 days before the election.
FVAP highly recommends that each State codify the 45-day requirement in State law (statute or administrative rule) and authorize the Chief Election Official or another State official to enforce the requirement should local election officials not meet the 45-day deadline. FVAP has found that State officials, once authorized to enforce the requirement, are able to remedy unexpected events—and get ballots to voters—sooner and with less hassle than States requiring federal enforcement actions.
Email and Online Transmission of Voting Materials
FVAP recommends States employ multiple electronic means to transmit voting materials to, and communicate with, voters. Specifically, each State should offer UOCAVA voters multiple electronic means to receive their ballot, including a way to provide (“push”) ballots to voters and a way that allows voters to obtain (“pull”) ballots from specified web servers. An example of “push” means is emailing a PDF of the blank ballot. “Pull” methods allow voters to go to an election website, and after inputting an identification code, “pull” or download their ballot. States should also expand their use of email, social media and online systems to communicate with voters throughout the voting process, including the transmission of registration and ballot request materials.
Email and online capabilities are widely available eclipsing the usefulness of faxing. After a September 2008 visit to military bases in the Middle East, Asia and Europe, a delegation of six State Chief Election Officials reported that “…reliance on fax machines to speed the voting process… is largely unworkable for deployed troops,” and that visited military personnel “indicated a strong preference for, and almost universal access to, email or internet based voting procedures.” Additionally, FVAP’s experience in the 2006 through 2010 election cycle indicates that email or online deliveries alone are insufficient to reach all voters; for example, different military information technology networks block user access to third-party email systems, and the voter’s deployed military email address may not have been known when the Federal Post Card Application was submitted. Conversely, some voters have access to email but not to web surfing services. Providing ballots by both systems substantially improves the likelihood that a voter will be able to receive their ballot electronically.
Expanded Use of Federal Write-In Absentee Ballot
FVAP continues to encourage and assist Uniformed Service and overseas voters to greatly increase the use of the Federal Write-in Absentee Ballot (FWAB). Given the inherent delays in sending ballots by mail, the FWAB represents the only ballot readily available for many of these voters. Therefore, FVAP recommends that States expand the use of the FWAB to include simultaneous registration, ballot request, and voted absentee ballot for federal, State and local offices for the elections required by the MOVE Act: general, primary (including Presidential Preference primary), special, and runoff. In expanding the use of the FWAB in this manner, individually-developed State Write-In Ballots will no longer be needed, and FVAP recommends that they be replaced with the FWAB alone. Universal adoption of the FWAB will standardize the “emergency ballot” process for UOCAVA voters, reduce confusion as to which form to use, and allow election officials to focus their education on a single form and its processes for timely return.
Adoption of Recommendations of the Uniform Law Commission
The Uniform Law Commission (ULC), an interstate commission made up of State legal experts appointed and elected by their State governments or commissions, has presented the “Uniform Military and Overseas Voters Act” (UMOVA) for adoption by the States. FVAP supports the Commission in this endeavor, and recommends that the States adopt the Act. To date, six States have adopted UMOVA. The sheer diversity of individual election laws regarding Uniformed Services and overseas voters is, in and of itself, a serious hindrance to these voters successfully exercising their franchise. Uniformity and standardization of voting laws for the Uniformed Services and overseas voters would substantially ease the burden of compliance, improve voter success, and would help reduce the variation in terms and procedures between States. This model legislation is endorsed by the Alliance of Military and Overseas Voting Rights, the American Bar Association, and the Council of State Governments, as well as being included in the Council’s list of Suggested State Legislation.
Some States currently have statutory provisions that go beyond the recommendations of the UMOVA, providing greater opportunities for military and overseas voters. While FVAP encourages adoption of the UMOVA language for uniformity, care must be taken to avoid regressing by adopting legislation that is less than what is already provided by State law. FVAP and the Uniform Law Commission both stand ready to assist States in legislative drafting to optimize both voter opportunity and standardization. Further information on UMOVA is available at www.umova.org.
Ballot Application FPCA Validity
Absentee ballot applications, including the Federal Post-Card Application (FPCA), submitted by UOCAVA voters, should be valid for all elections from the date the application is submitted through the next federal general election. In 2009, the MOVE Act repealed Section 104 of UOCAVA, which had required States to treat absentee ballot applications from UOCAVA voters as valid through two general election cycles. Since the repeal, some States have limited the validity of ballot applications to the calendar year in which they are submitted. This is a concern in Presidential election years, when some States hold early primaries and voters need to submit a ballot application in the previous calendar year. FVAP, therefore, recommends States move to a one general election rule for ballot application FPCA validity.
Emergency Authority for State Chief Election Official
During a period of a declared emergency or other situation where a short time-frame for ballot transmission exists, the Governor, the Chief Election Official, or designated State official should have the authority to designate alternate methods for handling absentee ballots to ensure UOCAVA voters have the opportunity to exercise their right to vote. Examples of such emergencies could include natural disasters such as floods, earthquakes, or man-made disasters, such as a fire, power outage or terrorist attack.
Removal of Notarization and Witnessing Requirements
Notarization and witnessing requirements on voter registration applications, ballot requests, and voted ballots present a real barrier to voting for many UOCAVA citizens. Citizens living in remote areas overseas are hindered because notary services may not exist, or may be prohibitively expensive and difficult to access. While the MOVE Act prohibits States from rejecting ballots or election materials submitted by UOCAVA voters for lack of a notary, it does not prohibit States from asking for it. This simply confuses the voter, drives them to find notaries even though not required, and likely disenfranchises many voters who, failing to find a notary, do not send in their ballots believing the State’s notary request is legitimate. Similarly, witnessing requirements, especially those that specify the age or citizenship of the witness, may disenfranchise voters who cannot satisfy this requirement due to their location or circumstances. Notarization or witnessing requirements for all absentee balloting materials should be removed, and the voter’s signature and date, under the self-administered oath on penalty of perjury, should verify the legitimacy of the voter and the application or ballot.
Late Registration Procedures
Recently discharged Uniformed Service members and their accompanying families or overseas citizens returning to the U.S., may become residents of a State just before an election, but not in time to register by the State’s deadline and vote. The adoption of special procedures for late registration would allow these citizens to register and vote in the upcoming election.
Enfranchise Citizens Who Have Never Resided in the U.S.
Many U.S. citizens, who have never resided in a State or territory, are not entitled to vote under current State law. These citizens are voting age children of U.S. citizens who are eligible to vote under UOCAVA. Absent the decisions made by these children’s parents to reside overseas, these disenfranchised children of UOCAVA voters would likely otherwise be allowed to vote. Therefore, FVAP urges that these U.S. citizens be allowed to vote in elections for Federal offices in the State in which either parent is eligible to vote under UOCAVA.