More states move to adopt military and overseas voting legislation
Legislatures rally bipartisan support for troops
Earlier this month, we celebrated our nation’s independence with fireworks, parades and picnics. While many legislatures set off their own fireworks this year along party lines about issues ranging from budget to redistricting to voter identification, legislators rallied the troops in many states with widespread bipartisan support for military and overseas voting legislation.
Much of this legislation was in response to the 2009 federal Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment (MOVE) Act, which was in effect for the first time during the November 2010 election. Some of the MOVE Act’s key provisions include: sending absentee ballots to voters at least 45 days in advance of federal elections; allowing for electronic transmission of voting materials to voters; eliminating notary requirements; and expanding the use of the Federal Write-in Absentee Ballot (FWAB), a backup ballot for those who do not receive a full ballot in time, to all federal elections.
In 2010 many states hurried to pass legislation to meet these requirements; however some failed to fully comply and played “catch up” during the 2011 legislative session. And several states not only complied with the MOVE Act, but expanded some of the protections to further enfranchise military and civilian voters abroad—and at home in at least one instance.
In South Carolina, the legislature passed a law (S 404) that requires ballots for all elections, not just federal elections, to be sent electronically (at the voter’s request) 45 days in advance. Plus, the new law expands acceptance of the FWAB for all elections and removes the witness requirement for military and overseas absentee ballots.
And in Texas, the legislature enacted SB 100, which expands several MOVE Act provisions to many state and local elections, changes the date for federal run-off elections and extends all of the law’s protections to military voters who are absent from their county of residence but within the United States since they often face similar challenges to casting ballots that will be counted.
Additionally, the Uniform Law Commission’s Uniform Military and Overseas Voters Act (UMOVA), a model act that would harmonize state election codes by removing further obstacles, adding more protections and extending key MOVE Act provisions to state and local elections, was on the table in several states.
The Pew Center on the States along with the Alliance for Military and Overseas Voting Rights, the Uniform Law Commission, the Federal Voting Assistance Program and the Department of Defense- State Liaison Office supported and encouraged MOVE Act compliance and UMOVA efforts across the nation. Six states adopted UMOVA in 2011: Colorado, Nevada, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oklahoma and Utah. Of special interest is North Carolina, which has one of the highest active duty military populations in the nation (ranks 5th) and is the first state among those ranking in the top third to adopt UMOVA. Another six states introduced UMOVA.
As of June 24, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL), legislatures in 17 states enacted MOVE-related legislation. Since that time, bills were also enacted in at least three additional states. NCSL also notes that in several states primary dates were shifted to better accommodate sending absentee ballots out at least 45 days prior to an election.
Ensuring that military and overseas voters are not disenfranchised is an ongoing challenge and responsibility for legislatures and election officials alike. While work remains, it is encouraging that many states took meaningful steps in 2011 to address the concerns that President Harry S. Truman voiced more than 50 years ago when he stated, “At a time when these young people are defending our country and its free institutions, the least we at home can do is to make sure that they are able to enjoy the rights they are being asked to fight to preserve.”
For more information on military and overseas voting, visit www.pewcenteronthestates.org/elections.