Voting from Abroad
For overseas Americans, the constitutional right to vote for their federal representatives has often been thwarted by inconsistent state regulations governing voter registration, by late arrival of ballot applications and the ballots themselves, and by lack of clear and timely information on how to vote. AARO has been working for more than three decades to make the system easier and more efficient, and to ensure that overseas voters are aware of their rights.
Procedures should be simplified for absentee registration and voting for US citizens abroad. The implementation of the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act should make broader use of technology and in every case provide equal benefit to both U.S. civilians and military personnel overseas, who are covered together under the Act. Timely ballot delivery and transparent vote counting procedures for these voters should be given priority.
At present, 23 states and the District of Columbia explicitly allow Americans reared abroad to exercise their right to vote in federal elections by registering to vote using the legal voting residence of their U.S. citizen parent(s). This right should be granted by all states.
AARO actively cooperates with federal and state authorities in charge of voting, explaining the problems faced by U.S. citizens abroad and encouraging efforts to streamline the system. It is currently working to ensure effective registration and absentee voting through a single state office in each state, as established in the 2002 Voting Reform bill, and to collect and disseminate information on absentee ballots. AARO also organizes and participates in voter registration events overseas, distributing information to its members and the American community abroad through personal contact and through its newsletters and e-mail bulletins.
For a more detailed analysis of the issue, please consult AARO Position Paper on Voting.
Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment Act (MOVE)
On October 28, 2009, President Obama signed into law the Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment Act (MOVE) which will bring major improvements to the process for voting from abroad. The Act includes the following significant changes:
- it allows military and overseas voters to request and receive election materials electronically such as registration forms, blank ballots and election information; these materials can be downloaded and printed locally which should reduce the time previously spent via use of the postal service;
- it guarantees that military and overseas ballots will be counted if sent by election day;
- it requires states to send out ballots a minimum of forty-five days in advance of the election;
- it prohibits states from rejecting a marked absentee ballot solely on the bases of a missing notary signature, paper size, and other restrictions.
Congress is also considering other legislation that would simplify and modernize the entire voter registration process and would track ballots through the process so voters could be certain that their ballots were received and counted. These proposals are under consideration by the various committees of jurisdiction of the United States Congress. Another important development is the forthcoming issuance in 2010 by the Uniform Law Commission of draft legislation to standardize many of the voting procedures across the fifty states and seven territories of the United States.
Modernizing the overseas voting process is a continuing process but considerable progress has been made in the past year thanks, in large part, to the concerted efforts of organizations like AARO, FAWCO, ACA and Overseas Vote Foundation and to the large and influential military-related organizations representing active duty personnel, veterans and military families. Special thanks are due to the PEW Charitable Trust which has provided the leadership and sponsorship to bring these organizations together in a way that makes their voices even more powerful.
Study shows improvements in the overseas voting process
According to the 2012 post-election survey conducted by the Overseas Vote Foundation (OVF), the overseas voting process was clearly improved in the first full federal election since passage of the Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment (MOVE) Act of 2009.
An article by Brian Knowlton in the New York Times shows that while a little over 20% of UOCAVA* voters were still unable to vote due to ballots that were late or not received, increased use of technology by both voters and elections officials did make the difference for many voters. More than half, for example, received their blank ballot electronically. Ironically, it was technicological glitches that thwarted some voters but election officials, vendors and those who provide voters with voting materials have a little time to fix those before the next test in 2014…
Click here to see the full NYT article by Brian Knowlton.
* UOCAVA: Uniformed and Overseas Civilians Absentee Voting Act
US Presidential Election: Overseas Americans Band Together to Demand Rights (update)
GENEVA, SWITZERLAND – A new report by several American citizen organizations outside the US is being used to give overseas citizens a voice in the upcoming presidential election. The report shows “how US Government policies and actions are negatively affecting the millions of US citizens who live abroad,” say the authors. “The report is based on a series of well-attended Town Hall Meetings, held in 2012 in five different Swiss cities, which brought together hundreds of Americans living in all parts of Switzerland.” Read more: http://genevalunch.com/blog/2012/09/07/us-presidential-election-overseas-americans-band-together-to-demand-rights/
Bill Calls for Bipartisan Commission on Issues Concerning Overseas Americans
On August 1, HR 6263 was introduced in the House of Representatives to create a bipartisan federal commission to study the impact of government policies on Americans living and working abroad and to make recommendations to Congress to improve drafting and implementation of policies concerning the overseas population.
Americans Abroad Caucus Chair Carolyn Maloney of New York and Representatives Mike Honda of California and Charles Rangel of New York have introduced the bill because, according to Congresswoman Maloney, the concerns of overseas Americans "about how their government interacts with them deserve to be heard – and paid attention to – here in Washington."
AARO salutes this unprecedented effort to examine the impact of U.S. legislation on the overseas community and seek ways to "ensure awareness, coordination, and integration of the activities of the federal government relating to Americans abroad."
Click here for the press release and here for the text of the new bill. Because this has never been done before, HR 6263 will need a lot of help and widespread bipartisan support. Write to your Congressperson (find your Representative at www.house.gov) and urge him/her to support, and even co-sponsor HR 6263!
AARO Comments on New FPCA Wording
The Federal Post Card Application (FPCA) is the document with which military and overseas voters register to vote and request their ballots.
A new version of this form was introduced for the 2012 election which raised concerns with many voters. In response to requests from state and local election officials, the new form explicitly asks voters to state whether they “intend to return” to the states or not. Many were unsure of their intent and even more unsure of the implications of their affirmation. In addition, for U.S. citizens born abroad, the notion of “return” did not apply.
The Federal Voting Assistance Program, responsible for military and overseas voting, has recently issued a Federal Register notice for the 2011 FPCA and is requesting feedback on the new format and wording.
AARO has submitted comments on the new form ( view comments). Additional comments and suggestions from others who either like or do not like the new form are welcomed by the FVAP. Click here for more information and to submit a comment (the "submit formal comment" box is in the upper right-hand corner of the page); the deadline for submission is September 4, 2012.
Pentagon Reinstates 2005 Ballot Request Form
In a major victory for overseas voter rights, the Pentagon has reinstated website availability of the federal post card application introduced in 2005, thus avoiding a number of problems related to the language on the form introduced in 2011.
The federal post card application ("FPCA") is the cornerstone of the voting process for Americans residing overseas. Although the 2005 FPCA had served its purpose without controversy, the Pentagon modified the text of the 2011 FPCA, requiring voters to indicate, under penalty of perjury, whether they "intend" or "do not intend" to return to the U.S. For many overseas voters, this language would prove to be problematic, and widespread voter abstention would likely have resulted from the use of the new form.
The CLOVE ("Clear Language for Overseas Voter Enfranchisement") Initiative, an ad hoc coalition of AARO and other organizations representing Americans overseas, was formed to fight introduction of the problematic language in the 2011 FPCA. CLOVE representatives lobbied Congress and Federal Voting Assistance Program officials for withdrawal of the new form, and ultimately prevailed.
FYI - Voting News
States Move to Allow Overseas and Military Voters to Cast Ballots by Internet New York Times, by Ian Urbina WASHINGTON — Nearly three million overseas and military voters from at least 33 states will be permitted to cast ballots over the Internet in November using e-mail or fax,...
Internet Voting, Still in Beta NY Times Opinion - January 28, 2010 Americans abroad should have a fair opportunity to vote, but allowing online voting in its current state could open elections up to vote theft and other mischief. Read...
Congress Approves Bill Helping Overseas Voters New York Times, by Ian Urbina, October 22, 2009, WASHINGTON — For decades, Election Day has been just out of reach for many American troops and civilians abroad. After struggling to get the paperwork...
Judge: Virginia Violated Rights of Voters Overseas NewsChannel 8, October 16, 2009 – A federal court just ruled that in 2008, the state of Virginia violated the voting rights of overseas and military voters. Read more: http://www.news8.net/news/stories/1009/669381.html...