Vote Now

This Obama-Era Policy Makes Voting Easier for Military and Expats Overseas

As part of our Vote Now series, VICE Impact will feature stories that highlight historic moments of voter expansion in the US.

by Impact Staff
Dec 7 2017, 4:52pm

Jean-Luc Bonifay

It seems like a no-brainer that Americans in uniform should have the right to vote and easy access to the ballot when they’re serving their country abroad. But for expatriates and troops stationed overseas that hasn’t always been the case. These estimated 5.7 million Americans not living in the U.S. are occasionally referred to as the 51st state, and can often be a deciding factor in a close race.

The Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment (MOVE) Act of 2009, signed into law by President Obama, put guidelines in place that protect voting rights for Americans outside the country. The legislation expanded the provisions of the Uniform and Overseas Citizens Voting Act (UOCAVA), enacted nearly three decades prior in 1986, which allowed Americans living abroad to register to vote and request an absentee ballot at the same time.

The MOVE Act improves upon UOCAVA in that it provides voters abroad with more protections. For instance, voters are able to request registration or absentee ballot applications through the internet or the mail. Also, under this federal law, states are required to send absentee ballots within 45 days of a general election.

Although the MOVE Act has made voting less difficult for Americans around the globe, the policy isn’t infallible. According to Voting News , a survey by the Overseas Voting Foundation found that in 2012, 13.8 percent of military personnel weren’t able to vote and neither could 11.2 percent of civilians. While the MOVE Act has been instrumental in improving voter access, it’s clear that more work still needs to be done to securing voter rights overseas.

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