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 are typically estimated by the Federal Voting Assistance Program as representing 3+% of all votes cast, meaning that the overseas vote is a crucial component of every American election. In a population currently estimated by the State Department at 8.7 million (the equivalent of the 12th state), however, overseas voter participation remains regrettably low, according to the FVAP.
The Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment (MOVE) Act of 2009 represented great progress for overseas voters, among other voting groups. It modernized voting methods and ensured greater reliability and security in the overseas voting process and vastly expanded the use of electronic voter information and ballot delivery. In their 2016 post- election survey, U.S.Vote/Overseas Vote report that an average of 95% of respondents received their ballot in time to vote. However, despite overall improvement in the ballot request and return process (72% of the survey respondents used some form of electronic method to request their ballots), 15% of overseas voters reported problems in requesting their ballots and state and local election officials continue to have problems with non-“standard” ballot return.
We support the call for “Act II of the MOVE Act”
Our longstanding partners U.S. Vote and its Overseas Vote initiative are calling for a new round of overseas and military voting reforms which, in particular, would provide for:
- Automatic registration for military voters
- “Permanent” status option for Qualified Overseas Voters
Both military and overseas voters must request their ballots every year for all elections in the year. Many either do not know this or forget in “off years” that special and run-off elections can take place unpredictably. The requirement places an undue burden on military voters in hard-to-reach areas and seems unnecessary for civilians residing indefinitely in one country overseas. For both long-term overseas voters and election administrators, it is a repetitive and unnecessary requirement that discourages participation.
- Single, Simultaneous, Uniform Federal Overseas Voter Registration + Ballot Request + Ballot Package
This would be similar to expanded use of the present “emergency” Federal Write-in Absentee Ballot (FWAB), which we have promoted for many years.
- State Department to Inform Overseas Citizens of Voting Rights
Education of the overseas voter should not be the sole responsibility of overseas advocacy and political organizations, even in an age of cut-backs in State Department funding. Our organizations have long supported the idea that voter information be provided on issuance of every new or renewed U.S. passport, representing a minimal cost for optimal reach.
- Uniform election dates and deadlines
Non-uniformity confuses voters (and even election officials) while simplification improves voter participation. At present, deadlines not only differ from state to state but also often depend on the method used to return a registration form, ballot request or ballot, and can change depending on whether an application or ballot is sent by mail, email, fax or delivered in-person. In addition, voters may move from one state to another, governed by different rules, and be unwittingly disenfranchised.
In addition, we continue to support the following:
American citizens who do not meet state residency requirements should have the right to vote in federal elections in all states and the District of Columbia at the legal voting residence of their U.S. citizen parent(s). Today, thirty-six states and the District of Columbia explicitly enable Americans who cannot satisfy state residency requirements to exercise their constitutional right to vote in federal elections. The Federal Voting Assistance Program recently pointed to this problem for what they call “never resided” voters and encourages states to consider and address it.
Statistical reporting is needed on the number of overseas absentee ballots transmitted and received. In order to track problems and continue to improve the UOCAVA voting process, information is needed for both military and overseas voters on the number of registration applications received, the number rejected, the number of ballots requested, the number of ballots rejected and the reasons for any rejection in all cases. The Election Assistance Commission still lacks one Commissioner for its full complement of four. To enable it to carry out its mission under the Help America Vote Act, we continue to urge Congress to approve full funding for the Commission.
In addition, all attempts by the Federal Voting Assistance Program to obtain a clear picture of the overseas voting population should, in the absence of any other valid count or estimate, be encouraged.
Continuing to improve the process
Our organizations have worked since the Seventies, first, to obtain the right to vote for overseas citizens and since, to ensure that absent military and overseas civilian voters enjoy an equal right and ability to vote. We all also support all current efforts for the adoption of UMOVA (the Uniform Military and Overseas Voter Act) on state level. Together, we will continue to work with Congress and the Administration to find all appropriate and economically feasible ways to enhance the ability of absent uniformed service voters and overseas Americans in the private sector to register and vote absentee in U.S. federal elections.