OCONUS Voting: Resources and “How To”
Americans living overseas became eligible to vote years after women and minorities in the United States. Following a successful “teabag campaign” by members of the Association of American Residents Overseas, legislation was passed in 1976 allowing Americans living overseas to vote.
Overseas voters – many of whom are military connected – represent 3% of the total vote. It’s no surprise that voting while stationed overseas is a bit more challenging than while living in the US. This article outlines legislation that attempts to eliminate barriers and resources for overseas voters.
The Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act (UOCAVA) of 1986
This act protects the rights of active duty military members stationed overseas by requiring states to allow them to vote absentee in federal elections.
The Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment Act (MOVE) of 2009
This amendment to the UOCAVA of 1986 requires states to transmit ballots to overseas voters with enough time to vote in federal elections. This amendment has improved some obstacles to overseas voting and significantly increased the number of military and overseas voter ballots that are cast and counted in federal elections.
Still Progress to be Made
While the voting experience for overseas military members has improved, there is still progress to be made. In response to UOCAVA of 1986, the Department of Defense created The Federal Voting Assistance Program (FVAP). It provides “voting assistance for Service members, their families and overseas citizens.” If you are a service member, spouse, or dependent and eligible to vote, you should be familiar with the Federal Post Card Application available through this program.
Electronic Ballot Submission. States are increasingly allowing electronic ballot submission for military and overseas voters – but 19 states require ballots to be returned by mail.
Online Portals. States are exploring and developing online portals – but again, the majority of ballots are returned by mail.
Digital Signatures. Many states accept digital signatures – Common Access Card (CAC) signatures in some states – but nearly half of states do not allow electronic signatures for voter registration or requesting an absentee ballot.
How to Vote OCONUS
There is a looming acuity to reforming voting procedures in relation to the coronavirus pandemic. For service members and their families living OCONUS, it is important to know the steps to take and resources available for successfully casting your vote.
Step 1 – Register and Request an Absentee Ballot
Filling out the Federal Post Card Application allows you to simultaneously register to vote and request an absentee ballot.
- Your address is usually the last place you lived before moving overseas
- Military spouses can use the same residence as their service member under the Military Spouse Residency Relief Act.
- To vote in the General Election on November 3, 2020, ballots should be sent by August 1, 2020.
Step 2 – Vote
When your ballot arrives, complete and return it. If it does not arrive in time, use the Federal Write-In Absentee Ballot (FWAB) as a backup ballot.
- The recommended deadline for overseas voters is October 13, 2020.
To find your election office, check the status of your Federal Post Card Application, or status of your ballot, use the FVAP interactive map.
How To Vote OCONUS as a Service Member
Additional Resources for OCONUS Voters
All branches have voting assistance officers to support servicemembers execute their right to vote. Voters living overseas also have the following resources.
Overseas Vote Initiative – The US Vote Foundation
This Delaware-based non-profit, nonpartisan public charity is on a mission to make it easier for all Americans to engage in election processes. Setting up a Voter Account allows you to stay informed, research elected officials, locate local election office contact information and register to vote by absentee ballot.
Association of Americans Resident Overseas
Headquartered in Paris, this nonpartisan association researches issues that affect the lives of overseas Americans – including absentee voting – and advocates for US citizens. They participate in the annual Overseas Americans Week to ensure that Congress is aware of the experiences of Americans abroad.
This organization strives to keep Americans overseas well-informed and serves as a direct link between overseas Americans and political leaders regarding policy concerns.
This organization strives to mobilize the overseas vote and serve as a Democratic voice for Americans abroad. They provide an online voter registration tool for overseas voters to request an absentee ballot.
American Citizens Abroad
This non-profit organization advocates for Americans who may be ineligible to vote from overseas. Examples include adult children of US citizens who have never resided in the united states. Additionally, this organization has designed a Voters Bill of Rights for overseas voters and sits on the Advisory Board of the US Vote Foundation.
- Jared Golden: Veteran, Congressman from Maine
- Van Taylor: Veteran, Congressman from Texas
- Military Veterans in Congress
About the author
Chelsea Bostelman is a registered nurse who stays busy with freelance writing, exploring Europe, and working on a graduate degree in nursing. She founded the Stuttgart Nurse Journal Club to provide underemployed nurses with free continuing education opportunities. A 10-year military spouse, she and her family spend their free time hiking, biking, and eating in southern Germany.