Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act

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The Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act (UOCAVA), P.L. 99-410, 4 U.S.C. §§ 1973ff1973ff-6, 39 U.S.C. § 3406, 18 U.S.C. §§ 608609, is a United States federal law dealing with elections and voting rights for United States citizens residing overseas. The act requires that all U.S. states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, Guam, American Samoa, and the U.S. Virgin Islands allow certain U.S. citizens to register to vote and to vote by absentee ballot in federal elections.[1] The act is Public Law 99-410 and was signed into law by President Ronald Reagan on August 28, 1986.[2]

Groups of people covered under the act are:

The act provides for an emergency back-up ballot, the Federal Write-In Absentee Ballot (FWAB), which can be cast by voters who "have made a timely application for but have not received their regular ballot from the state or territory, subject to certain conditions."[1]

The act does not apply to non-federal elections, although some states and territories also allow citizens covered by the UOCAVA to register and vote in state and local elections as well.[3]


The Federal Voting Assistance Program (FVAP), part of the Department of Defense, is the program that administers the UOCAVA as well as the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 on behalf of the Secretary of Defense.[3] The FVAP states its goals as to "inform and educate U.S. citizens worldwide of their right to vote; facilitate voting participation; and protect the integrity of, and simultaneously enhance, the electoral process at the Federal, State and local levels."[3]

Executive Order 12642[edit]

An executive order issued by President Reagan on June 9, 1988, designated the Secretary of Defense as the presidential designee responsible for administering the act and authorizes the Secretary of Defense to delegate the responsibilities under the act and executive order to other persons within the any person or persons within the Department of Defense[4] Department of Defense directives issued by Secretaries of Defense have delegated responsibilities for the FVAP to a FVAP director. The current director is Bob Carey, while the deputy director is J. Scott Wiedmann.

The act was amended by the Help America Vote Act (2002)[2] and the National Defense Authorization Acts in 2002)[2] and 2005.

Relevance to District of Columbia voting rights[edit]

The Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act allows U.S. citizens vote from overseas, even if they have permanently left the United States. Since these citizens are no longer residents of a U.S. State but maintain their right to vote, legal scholars have therefore argued that United States Congress also has the authority to grant voting rights to residents of the District of Columbia.[5]

Relevance to Puerto Rico voting rights[edit]

The Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act has also been challenged in federal court by U.S. citizens living in Puerto Rico. Plaintiffs in the case of Igartua de la Rosa v. United States claimed that the Act is unconstitutional because it allows U.S. citizens who move abroad to vote in federal elections, but not if they relocate to Puerto Rico. The challenge was dismissed by the courts.[6] However, in his dissent, Judge Juan R. Torruella argued that the United States Constitution neither denies citizens of Puerto Rico the right to vote for members of the United States House of Representatives nor imposes a limitation on the federal government's authority to extend federal voting rights to territorial residents under other constitutional powers.[7]

See also[edit]


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