Overseas Voting Reform
- Published: 4 May 2009
Americans abroad are proud of their citizenship and vigilant in guarding their constitutional right to help elect their President, Vice President and Members of Congress. For most overseas Americans, their right to vote is the primary means available to them to participate in the American democratic process. Civilian voter turnout overseas has increased steadily in recent years, and overseas Americans have historically had higher election participation rates than their state-side counterparts â€“ typically 3+% of votes cast, although they comprise only about 2% of the electorate.
The vast majority of local election officials surveyed after the 2008 federal election noted increased overseas voter participation compared with previous years. Unfortunately â€“ and despite some recent reforms â€“ overseas voters continue to face a range of obstacles and bureaucratic pitfalls that all too frequently frustrate their efforts to exercise their cherished democratic rights.
The Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act (UOCAVA) of 1986 defines the rights of overseas U.S. citizens to vote in U.S. federal elections, and sets out the parameters for registering and voting by absentee ballot from overseas. UOCAVA was complemented by the Help America Vote Act of 2002 that addressed a plethora of problems in voting domestically and attempted to eliminate some of those faced by overseas absentee voters.
Nevertheless, overseas citizens still face a number of obstacles in casting their votes and having them counted.
In the Overseas Vote Foundation 2008 Post Election Voter Survey, more than one in five (22%) of the 24,000 respondents did not receive the official ballot they expected; nearly one-third (31%) of experienced overseas voters still had questions or problems when registering to vote; and more than half (52%) of those who tried but could not vote, were unable to because their ballots were late or did not arrive at all.
Pending legislation will address many of the problems encountered by Americans attempting to vote from abroad and will require urgent support so that the changes called for can be implemented in time for the 2010 federal election.
Voting procedure reforms still needed
Voter registration, ballots and/or Federal Write-in Absentee Ballots should not be refused for any reason that can disadvantage overseas voters, such as â€œnon-standardâ€ size, shape, weight or color of paper of the application, envelope or ballot (given that such materials are now often downloaded using non-American machines and paper); notary, witness or oath requirements (given the often prohibitive cost of access to notary services outside the United States); delivery of the application or ballot by a method other than the Post Office (to allow for hand delivery, courier or express mail services); or arbitrary requirements that are not necessary to prevent fraud.
American citizens who do not meet state residency requirements should have the right to vote in all states at the legal voting residence of their U.S. citizen parent(s). Today, only sixteen states explicitly enable Americans who cannot satisfy state residency requirements to exercise their constitutional right to vote in federal elections, though some states are introducing new initiatives.
The deadline for the receipt of overseas ballots should be uniformly fixed on Election Day, and overseas ballots should be counted simultaneously with domestic ballots, ensuring that overseas votes are taken into account in the announcement of the results of the election.
No voted ballots should be required to be received before the official Election Day. 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.