Federal Voting Assistance Program
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The Federal Voting Assistance Program (FVAP) administers the federal responsibilities of the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act (UOCAVA) of 1986, as modified by the Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment Act (MOVE). The act covers more than six million potential voters: active duty members of the uniformed services including the Coast Guard, Public Health Service Commissioned Corps, the Merchant Marine, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and their voting age dependents; as well as U.S. citizens residing outside the United States. The FVAP acts on behalf of the United States Secretary of Defense, who is UOCAVA's presidential designee per Executive Order 12642.
FVAP is also responsible for administering the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 for U.S. citizens abroad.
FVAP exists to:
- Assist uniformed services and overseas voters exercise their right to vote so that they have an equal opportunity with the general population to have their vote counted.
- Assist the states in complying with the relevant federal laws, and advise them on ways to best comply.
- Advocate on behalf of the uniformed services and overseas voters, identifying impediments to their ability to exercise their right to vote, and proposing methods to overcome those impediments.
It is the vision of the FVAP that Military and Overseas citizens are able to cast a valid ballot, which is counted in the election, from anywhere in the world as easily as if they were at a polling place.
The Heritage Foundation published an article on July 28, 2009 titled: America's Military Voters: Re-enfranchising the Disenfranchised. The article details election data that indicates the disenfranchisement of members of America’s armed forces.
Deployed members of the military have to balance their normal duties with the added difficulty of sending and receiving mail form a forward position. With wait times nearing a month in duration and uncertain access to facilities, the logistical difficulties in mailing a voter registration card alone can tax even the most seasoned of veterans. In a recent Overseas Vote Foundation survey, they discovered that in the 2008 election alone, 22 percent of absentee voters, both military and overseas civilians, failed to receive their absentee ballot.
As a result in the inherent difficulties in voting, the average military voter is far more likely to have his ballot rejected than the average voter, either as a result of improper procedure or late arrival. In the 2008 election, 106,000 of the 325,000 absentee ballots distributed to members of the military were never returned.
One of the main avenues that the FVAP uses to work with States/territories is through legislative initiatives. Each year, the FVAP formulates and sends recommended legislative initiatives to States/territories and urges them to adopt those changes. As required by the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2002 (NDAA FY02), the FVAP received reports from State Governors and territory officials in 2003, 2004 and 2005 on the status of the FVAP recommended legislative initiatives. The FVAP reviews and forwards these reports to State/territory Congressional delegations and compiles data on the legislative accomplishments with various States/territories. State/territory legislative changes have also occurred as a result of the Department of Justice's enforcement authority of UOCAVA.
NDAA FY02 and the Help America Vote Act of 2002 (HAVA) made 2 of FVAP’s legislative initiatives mandatory in all States/territories: (1) accept 1 FPCA as a request for ballots for all Elections in a calendar year; and (2) removal of the not earlier than restrictions for registration requests. Thus, these have been retired from the FVAP list of recommended legislative initiatives.
Significant progress has been made in referencing UOCAVA in State/territory statutes, granting emergency authority to State/territory chief election officials and enfranchising U.S. citizens who have never lived in the U.S. Almost every State/territory now allows electronic transmission of election materials.
The specific initiatives that the FVAP requests States/territories to pass in the States/territories are summarized below. In addition to these initiatives, many States/territories have passed other legislation to benefit UOCAVA citizens to include signing and dating in lieu of the postmarking requirement; late counting; moving primary or run-off election dates to allow for more ballot transit time between elections; and participation in DOD/State cooperative electronic voting projects.
- 1. Provide 40 to 45 Days Transit Time For Absentee Ballots to UOCAVA Voters
The most significant barrier to successful absentee voting is the late receipt of blank ballots which leaves citizens without sufficient time to vote and return absentee ballots by mail. Uniformed Service members, their families, and overseas citizens are challenged exercising their right to vote. The Military Postal Service Agency urges military voters in Iraq and Afghanistan to send ballots back at least 28 days before an election, and voters at other overseas military installations to send ballots back at least 21 days before an election. FVAP further recommends that citizens residing overseas return their ballots at least 28 days before an election, or earlier, depending on foreign mail service. Ballots, therefore, must be sent 45 days prior to the election if sent through international mail and overseas military post offices in order to provide adequate time for voters to receive, vote, and return ballots, with any likelihood that their votes will be successfully received by election officials. Accepting and counting absentee ballots that were cast up to Election Day but were not received until after the election would further enfranchise these voters, and FVAP’s scoring provides additional points to States that provide such post-Election Day ballot return deadlines.
- 2. Email and Online Transmission of Voting Materials
Email and online capabilities are widely available to, and have become the communications standard for Uniformed Service members and overseas citizens, basically replacing fax and mail. Transmission of voting materials by email or online has improved the opportunity to vote for UOCAVA citizens by providing high-speed delivery of election materials to and from voters and local election officials. Fax capabilities, on the other hand, are generally unavailable to military voters and overseas citizens. It is necessary that email and online transmission options are available to all Uniformed Service members, their families, and overseas citizens, and that they become the principal methods of sending election materials to these citizens. It is also crucial that the States expand the use of email and online transmission for all elections materials, including registration forms, ballot requests and absentee ballots. Furthermore, voting materials transmitted by electronic means should not require subsequent submission by mail.
While this scoring system does not give points for providing electronic absentee balloting systems, it does provide points for allowing, at the voter’s discretion, the return of static copies of voted ballots by electronic means, such as a scanned copy of a voted ballot emailed back to an election official. Although necessarily forcing the voter to relinquish the right to a private ballot, many Uniformed Services and overseas voters would rather give up that right and have their ballots counted, then to not have their ballot counted at all. FVAP believes that option must be preserved for these voters.
The use of these technologies opens a rapid, cost-efficient and effective line of communication between local election officials and UOCAVA voters that is capable of providing immediate updates regarding the successful delivery of voting materials and voter registration information. Finally, for the more mobile UOCAVA voters, especially Uniformed Services voters, email addresses are much more stable and consistent than postal mail addresses.
- 3. Expanded Use of Federal Write-In Absentee Ballot
UOCAVA citizens should be authorized to use the Federal Write-In Absentee Ballot (FWAB) to vote in general, primary, special, and runoff elections for Federal, State and local offices. When insufficient time exists between the scheduling of a special or runoff election and the set election date, citizens may not receive their State ballots in time to vote. Expanding the use of the FWAB for all elections provides UOCAVA citizens a greater opportunity to vote in these elections.
Additionally, the FWAB should be accepted simultaneously as a voter registration application, absentee ballot request, and absentee ballot. This provision will allow this highly mobile population to participate in elections far in advance of a deployment, reassignment or move. Finally, FVAP is recommending a new policy that the FWAB be the only write-in ballot used for Uniformed Services and overseas voters; the authorization and use of both a FWAB and a State Write-In Absentee Ballot introduces greater complexity and opportunity for error for Uniformed Services and overseas voters. Using the single FWAB will allow future technological solutions by FVAP to incorporate State and local races into online FWAB solutions, further extending this franchise opportunity.
- 4. Participation with Uniform Law Commission Effort and Adoption of Recommendations
The Uniform Law Commission (ULC) is drafting the “Military Services and Overseas Civilian Absentee Voting Act” to be presented for future adoption by the States. FVAP supports the efforts of the Commissioners in this endeavor, and recommends that the States participate in and support the drafting of the Act through their State representatives on the Commission. The sheer diversity of individual election laws regarding Uniformed Services and overseas voters is, in and of itself, a serious hindrance to these voters successfully exercising their franchise. Uniformity and standardization of voting laws for the Uniformed Services and overseas voters would substantially ease the burden of compliance and improve voter success. Furthermore, FVAP recommends that the State Chief Election Official work closely with the State legislative body to enact the Act when it is presented to the States for adoption.
- 5. Emergency Authority for State Chief Election Official
During a period of a declared emergency or other situation where a short time-frame for ballot transmission exists, the Governor or designated State official should have the authority to designate alternate methods for handling absentee ballots to ensure UOCAVA voters have the opportunity to exercise their right to vote.
- 6. Removal of Notarization and Witnessing Requirements
Notarization and witnessing requirements on voter registration applications, ballot requests, and voted ballots present a real barrier to voting for many UOCAVA citizens. Citizens living in remote areas overseas are hindered because notary services may not exist or may be prohibitively expensive and difficult to access. Similarly, witnessing requirements, especially those that specify the age or citizenship of the witness, may disenfranchise voters who cannot satisfy this requirement due to their location or circumstances. Notarization or witnessing requirements for all absentee balloting materials should be removed, and the voter’s signature and date, under the self-administered oath on these voting materials, should verify the legitimacy of the voter and the application or ballot.
- 7. Late Registration Procedures
Recently discharged Uniformed Service members and their accompanying families or overseas citizens returning to the U.S. may become residents of a State just before an election, but not in time to register by the State’s deadline and vote. The adoption of special procedures for late registration would allow these citizens to register and vote in the upcoming election.
- 8. Enfranchise Citizens Who Have Never Resided in the U.S.
Many U.S. citizens, who have never resided in a State or territory, are not entitled to vote under current State law. These citizens are voting age children of U.S. citizens who are eligible to vote under UOCAVA themselves. Absent the decisions made by these children’s parents to reside overseas, these disenfranchised children of UOCAVA voters would likely otherwise be allowed to vote. Therefore, FVAP urges that these U.S. citizens be allowed to vote in elections for Federal offices in the State in which either parent is eligible to vote under UOCAVA.
FVAP informs voters how to register and vote in elections and educates voters of any state specific laws.