Overseas Voting Reform
- Published: 12 April 2014
For most overseas Americans, the right to vote is their primary means of participating in the American democratic process. Civilian voter turnout overseas has increased steadily in recent years: overseas Americans have historically had higher voter participation rates than their state-side counterparts (typically 3+% of votes cast, for around 2% of the electorate).
In the wake of the first presidential election since the landmark Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment (MOVE) Act, however, military and overseas voters still faced obstacles in casting their ballots and having them counted. Despite overall improvement in the ballot request and return process (most overseas voters used some form of electronic method to request their ballots), the Overseas Vote Foundation 2012 Post Election Voter Survey showed that 22% of respondents could not vote because they received their ballot too late or not at all; and confusion persists as to filing requirements (e.g. witness signatures) and process (e.g. use of the FWAB).
What still needs to be done?
Electronic transmission of voting materials / updating of registration information: Faxing should never be the only means of electronic transmission accepted, as it is a viable option for only a small proportion of military and overseas voters. Voters must also be able to review and update their registration information online, reducing the risk of incorrect or outdated addresses, and to track the ballot–request and –return process online. The Voter Empowerment Act (HR 12) addresses these problems.
Witness requirements: Just as MOVE eliminated any need for notarization, which is impossible or extremely costly for many military and overseas voters, it is necessary to clearly eliminate the need for a witness signature on a ballot request or envelope. A declaration acceptable to the states should be developed to be signed by the voter acknowledging that any material misstatement of fact in completing the ballot request/ballot may be grounds for a conviction of perjury. One such declaration can be found in the Uniform Military and Overseas Voter Act (UMOVA), which has now been adopted by 12 states and the District of Columbia.
Postmark and date stamp requirements should be eliminated; all dated ballots should be accepted from all military and overseas voters. Postmark requirements have been eliminated for the military but not explicitly for overseas voters, many of whom prefer the speed and security of entrusting their ballots to express mail or courier services. Cf. UMOVA model.
Overseas voters’ ballot requests must clearly apply to all elections in the year. To avoid possible disenfranchisement in the event of special emergency elections, the period between announcement of the elections and receipt of all ballots should be uniformly fixed at 60 days.