October 8, 2010
POLICY OPTIONS FOR MILITARY AND OVERSEAS VOTING
By: Terrance Adams, Legislative Analyst II
You asked for examples of policy options that would improve military members' and overseas voters' ability to cast absentee ballots.
Federal law requires U.S. states and territories to allow (1) members of the armed forces, (2) their spouses or dependent family members living where they are stationed, and (3) U.S. citizens residing outside the country to register and vote by absentee ballot in federal elections. Congress passed the Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment (MOVE) Act (P.L. 111-84) in 2009 to further enhance access to ballots for these voters. Connecticut responded by passing legislation in 2010 to conform state law to the MOVE Act.
In July 2010, the Uniform Law Commission released the Uniform Military and Overseas Voters Act (UMOVA) with the goal of having it adopted by state legislatures around the country by the 2012 election. Generally, UMOVA extends the provisions in federal law to state and local elections while also adding some new measures. Some of its provisions already exist under Connecticut law, but there are others that the legislature may consider enacting, such as counting absentee ballots received after Election Day.
For further information about the voting rights of armed services members, see OLR Report 2008-R-0641.
The Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act of 1986 (UOCAVA) (P.L. 99-410) requires U.S. states and territories to allow certain U.S. citizens to register and vote by absentee ballot in federal elections. These citizens, referred to in this report as UOCAVA voters, include (1) members of the armed forces, (2) their spouses or dependent family members living where they are stationed, and (3) U.S. citizens residing outside the country.
The MOVE Act requires states, by the November 2010 general election, among other things, to:
1. establish procedures allowing UOCAVA voters to request voter registration and absentee ballot applications by mail or electronically for general, special, and primary elections for federal office;
2. designate at least one means of electronic communication for (a) UOCAVA voters to request voter registration and absentee ballot applications, (b) sending voter registration and absentee ballot applications to voters, and (c) providing UOCAVA voters with election and voting information;
3. develop procedures for transmitting blank ballots to UOCAVA voters by mail and electronically for general, special, and primary elections for federal office;
4. transmit absentee ballots to voters at least 45 days before an election; and
5. develop a free access system that allows a UOCAVA voter to determine whether his or her absentee ballot was received.
In response to the MOVE ACT, the legislature passed PA 10-1, June Special Session (JSS) which, among other things, generally allows (1) applications for absentee ballots to be issued and returned electronically and (2) military and overseas absentee ballots to be issued electronically. The applicant or voter determines whether the application or ballot is delivered electronically or by another permitted method. Electronic transmission of these materials is expected to significantly reduce absentee ballots' processing time, improving the likelihood that military and overseas voters will have their absentee ballots counted.
Further, although not required by the MOVE Act, PA 10-1, JSS also makes U.S. citizens age 18 and older who were born outside the country but whose parent or guardian was a Connecticut resident before leaving the country eligible to vote by presidential or overseas ballot in a federal election administered in Connecticut.
In addition to the legislative changes, the Secretary of the State's Office modified its website to allow voters to check the status of an absentee ballot (http://www.dir.ct.gov/sots/LookUp.aspx). The office's designated electronic contact is its legislation and elections administration division's email address: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Although UOCAVA and the MOVE Act only apply to federal elections, Connecticut has extended most provisions to state and local elections, as the absentee ballot transmitted to military voters includes state and local elections (CGS § 9-153e). Additionally, Connecticut transmits absentee ballots to UOCAVA voters at least 45 days before an election and did not need to address that requirement in the MOVE Act.
For overseas voters, voting privileges vary depending on whether or not they are residing permanently overseas. Voters who are registered in Connecticut and are overseas temporarily may vote by absentee ballot for all offices (CGS § 9-153f), while those who formerly lived in Connecticut but now reside permanently overseas may only vote for federal offices (CGS § 9-158b).
UNIFORM MILITARY AND OVERSEAS VOTERS ACT
In July 2010, the Uniform Law Commission (ULC) released the Uniform Military and Overseas Voters Act (UMOVA). It is not a mandate, but rather a model that may be enacted by state legislatures nationwide to bring uniformity to state laws governing military and overseas ballots. ULC released UMOVA with the goal of having it adopted around the nation in time for the 2012 election.
Generally, UMOVA extends the UOCAVA and MOVE Act provisions (which only apply to federal elections) to state and local elections while also adding some new measures. The General Assembly could enact UMOVA in its entirety, or it could adopt those measures not currently in Connecticut law. Some of these measures are described below.
Federal Write-In Absentee Ballot
The Federal Write-In Absentee Ballot (FWAB) is considered a “back-up” or “fail-safe” alternative to a regular absentee ballot. It is used when military and overseas voters have made a timely application for, but have not received, a regular absentee ballot two weeks before the election. The FWAB is available online, through voting assistance officers at military installations, or at U.S. embassies and consulates.
Unless otherwise authorized by state law, the FWAB may only be used for federal elections. Further, some states, including Connecticut, are exempt from accepting the FWAB. However, Connecticut's practice is to accept the FWAB, but only from military voters and only for federal offices. In a January 2009 report, the Pew Center on the States found that 22 states allowed the FWAB to be used for voting in state elections.
UMOVA enhances the FWAB by allowing military and overseas voters to use it to vote for state and local offices. Connecticut could consider adopting this provision and expanding its use of FWAB.
Absentee Ballots Received After Election Day
UMOVA would require states to count absentee ballots from military and overseas voters that are (1) submitted for delivery by 12:01 AM local time (based on where the voter is located) on Election Day and (2) received by the close of business on the day before official election results are certified by local officials.
According to the Pew Center's report, as of January 2009, 18 states and the District of Columbia counted absentee ballot received after Election Day. Connecticut requires absentee ballots to be received by the close of polls in order to be counted (CGS § 9-140b (a)).
It is unclear how much additional time this provision would provide military and overseas voters. The secretary of the state generally canvasses election results in late November (CGS §§ 9-315, 9-318, 9-319). However, the law requires election moderators to either (1) fax the election results to the secretary of the state by midnight on Election Day and subsequently submit a hard copy of the results by the Friday after Election Day or (2) hand deliver the results to either the secretary of the state by 6 p.m. or the state police by 4 p.m. (the police then deliver the results to the secretary by 6 p.m.) on the day after Election Day (CGS § 9-314 (b)).
The provision in UMOVA (found in section 12 of the act) that allows extra time appears to be based on when election moderators submit their results, not when the secretary completes the canvas. If the legislature wished to enact this provision of UMOVA, it would either need to (1) extend the amount of time election moderators have to submit results to the secretary or (2) establish provisions for counting ballots received after election moderators transmit their results.
Electronic Voter Registration
UMOVA provides for electronic voter registration, which is currently not permitted in Connecticut.
U.S. Citizens Living Abroad
U.S. citizens who last lived in Connecticut before moving abroad may currently vote for federal offices only. UMOVA extends their voting rights to include state and local offices.
UMOVA also fully enfranchises U.S. citizens 18 and older who were born outside the country and who still live abroad. These citizens would be eligible to vote in all Connecticut elections if (1) they have not previously registered in another state and (2) Connecticut was the last place their parent or guardian was registered or eligible to vote prior to leaving the country. PA 10-1, JSS allows these citizens to vote for federal offices only.
Electronic Ballot Submission
One option not included in either MOVE or UMOVA is to allow the electronic submission of absentee ballots. Pew's 2009 report found that 19 states allow completed ballots to be submitted electronically. While this significantly reduces the processing time for absentee ballots, the ULC noted that “no consensus yet exists on the question of whether and how electronic voting can occur securely and privately.”
Information from the Secretary of the State's Office: http://www.sots.ct.gov/sots/cwp/view.asp?a=3179&q=466238
Pew Center 2009 Report: http://www.pewcenteronthestates.org/uploadedFiles/NTTV_Report_Web.pdf
Text of UMOVA: http://www.law.upenn.edu/bll/archives/ulc/msocava/2010am_approved.pdf