Are you a member of the military? As a servicemember, you make great sacrifices for the country. However, you keep most of the civil rights that you have as a civilian. One of the most important rights is the right to vote. You don't lose this right when you join the military, even if you're stationed in another country.
The Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act (UOCAVA)
Many laws have been passed to protect your right to vote. One of these laws is the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act (UOCAVA). This federal law helps military voters register and cast absentee ballots in federal elections. An absentee ballot is a vote made in advance of an election by someone who can't be present at the polls. Many states have laws that allow UOCAVA voters to cast absentee ballots for state and local elections also.
State Voting Laws and Procedures
The procedures for voting by absentee ballot will greatly depend on what state you live in. The states decide how the UOCAVA is to be implemented. Some states will give plenty of time for the absentee voting process. Other states will give very little time. Your state won't count your ballot if it's received late.
Federal Voting Assistance Program (FVAP)
The Federal Voting Assistance Program (FVAP) administers the UOCAVA. It attempts to give all members of the military the opportunity to vote. The FVAP web site will assist you if you need to vote absentee. Some of the information found on the web site will help you to:
- Register to vote
- Request an absentee ballot
- Receive state addresses to send election materials
Registering and requesting an absentee ballot can be accomplished with a single form. This form is called the Federal Post Card Application. The form must be completed, signed, dated and mailed to your local election official.
Absentee Voting Process
States vary as to when they send out absentee ballots. Most will begin mailing them 30-45 days before an election. You should complete the ballot as soon as possible. Mail the completed ballot to your local election official. If the ballot is received in time, your vote will be counted.
Federal Write-In Absence Ballot (FWAB)
There's a chance that you won't receive your absentee ballot in time for an election. The UOCAVA provides a backup ballot, called the Federal Write-In Absentee Ballot (FWAB). This ballot can be used in all federal general elections.
Every state will accept the FWAB if it's received on time. In order to be eligible to use the FWAB, you must:
- Be absent from your voting residence
- Have applied for a regular ballot before your state deadline or the date is 30 days before the general election
- Have not received the requested regular absentee ballot from the state
The FWAB can be found on the FVAP web site. You can also find hardcopies of the ballot at military installations or US embassies. Check the information on your state from the FVAP web site for any specific state requirements. This may include:
- Witness requirements
- Notary requirements
- Mailing addresses
Questions for Your Attorney
- Do I have the right to vote even if I am in the middle of a combat operation?
- Can my spouse vote by absentee ballot if she relocated with me to another country?
- Can I vote over the internet or do I have to mail my ballot to a local state election official?