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Military Voting Rights In Virginia

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There are 34,477 military personnel on active duty who are legal residents of Virginia. The Virginians on active duty are serving all over the world, including Afghanistan and Iraq. These individuals cannot come home to vote. If they are to vote at all, it must be by absentee ballot. You can appreciate that there are three time-consuming steps in absentee voting.  First, the voter’s absentee ballot request must travel from the voter to the election official back home. Second, the unmarked absentee ballot must travel from the election official to the voter. Finally, the marked ballot must travel from the voter back to the election official.

Each of these steps can take weeks if snail mail must be used, but only seconds if secure electronic means were authorized. But those electronic means have not been authorized. We are still conducting absentee voting essentially as we did during World War II and the Korean War, by shipping pieces of paper across oceans and continents by snail mail.

Some military personnel do not receive or have the opportunity to send mail every day.  Their mail service is slow and intermittent, and these voters are subject to being moved around the world without notice. Sergeant Joe Smith of Virginia requested that his absentee ballot be sent to him at his Army Post Office (APO) address in Afghanistan. On the same day that his local General Registrar mailed him his ballot, Joe was wounded and then evacuated via Germany to the Walter Reed Army Medical Center in DC. By the time the ballot catches up with him, Election Day will be past.

The Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act (UOCAVA) is the federal law that gives military personnel, their family members and U.S. citizens outside our country the right to vote by absentee ballot, at least for federal offices. As recently amended, UOCAVA now explicitly requires each state to mail absentee ballots to UOCAVA voters at least 45 days before the general election, or to get a waiver from DOD. To get a waiver, the state must show DOD that mailing absentee ballots that early would create an undue hardship for the state and that the state has made a satisfactory alternative arrangement (satisfactory to DOD) to ensure that UOCAVA voters have the opportunity to cast ballots that really do get counted.

Several states still conduct their primaries in September, and those states will be required to move back their primaries or to make other arrangements. Until the results of the primary have been officially certified, the local election official cannot print general election ballots, much less mail them out. Fortunately, we do not have that problem in Virginia. Our primaries and nominating conventions are over by sometime in June.

Most of Virginia’s counties and independent cities do a good job of mailing out unmarked absentee ballots by the 45th day preceding the election, but about 15 percent of the jurisdictions (generally the same ones each year) are late. Some jurisdictions don’t mail out ballots until just 15 days before Election Day, thus guaranteeing that the deployed service member will be disenfranchised. In Virginia, when a local election official is late in mailing out absentee ballots, it is not because the official cannot mail the ballots earlier—it is because the official does not want to make it possible for the brave young men and women of our Armed Forces to vote. Military absentee ballots break heavily for Republican candidates.  (Documentation available upon request.)

Readers, please contact the General Registrar of your county or city. Remind the official that he or she is now required by federal law to mail out ballots at least 45 days before the election. Contact the official again on the 44th day before Election Day, to determine if the ballots have been mailed. If not, a remedy is available in federal court, such as an extension on the deadline for the receipt of mailed-in absentee ballots. For more information, please contact me at 1201 S. Court House Rd., #735 Arlington, VA 22204.  My e-mail is


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