As I travel across the country, I constantly hear stories of election officials going the extra mile to serve Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act (UOCAVA) voters. Elections are the very foundation of our representative democracy. Those who serve and protect our republic, like all Americans, deserve every opportunity to shape it. As we approach National Voter Registration Day on September 25, it is important to remember the challenges faced by UOCAVA voters when registering to vote and how election officials can support their voting experience.
Active duty service members, their families and other Americans living overseas often must plan further ahead than the average voter and take extra steps to make sure they are properly registered, and set up to receive and return an absentee ballot.
I had my own experience with the difficulties that can arise when trying to cast a ballot overseas, first in the mid-1990s when I was living abroad in Siberia, and then more than 15 years later when I was working for the Department of Justice in Iraq. In both instances, I faced issues with ballot receipt and the ability to effectively return my ballot by mail.
Research suggests that many UOCAVA voters face similar difficulties receiving and casting ballots. Of the more than 930,000 UOCAVA ballots transmitted in 2016, 68.1 percent were returned, roughly 12 percent lower than the non-UOCAVA absentee return rate of 79.9 percent. Of UOCAVA ballots successfully returned by voters, 3 percent were rejected, roughly 2 percent higher than the non-UOCAVA absentee ballot rejection rate of 1 percent. Reasons why UOCAVA ballots were not counted varied from missed deadlines, voter signature issues, ballots lacking postmarks and other issues.
The good news is, while obstacles exist for UOCAVA voters, election officials and federal agencies, such as the Federal Voting Assistance Program (FVAP) and the U.S. Election Assistance Commission (EAC), are committed to helping UOCAVA voters overcome these obstacles.
For example, the EAC will host a Facebook Live event on September 19 at 11:00 a.m. ET on Upcoming Key Election Dates, moderated by EAC Chairman Thomas Hicks and featuring FVAP Director David Beirne and Brian Miller, Executive Director of Nonprofit Vote. This timely discussion will focus on two pre-election dates that are important to elections officials and voters alike: September 22, the 45-day deadline for states to send absentee ballots to UOCAVA voters; and September 25, National Voter Registration Day.
The event will also highlight resources available to UOCAVA voters and steps election officials can take to strengthen the UOCAVA voting process.