The NCSL Blog


By Amanda Zoch

Watermarks grace our passports, the cash in our wallets and now even our ballots. Some states, such as California and Tennessee, require watermarks on their ballots to prevent counterfeit ballots from being processed and counted.

Canvass LogoBut what do voters do if they need to print their ballot at home on a standard sheet of 8 1/2-by-11 copy paper? Most voters won’t find themselves in that situation, but overseas and military voters, as well as some voters with disabilities just might.

The 2009 Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment Act requires states to provide those voters with an electronic way to both request and receive their absentee ballots. Thirty-one states also allow some form of electronic return, but most military and overseas voters still opt to return their ballot by mail—in which case a watermark requirement might be one more barrier for a group that already faces more than their fair share. 

One way states can ensure military and overseas voters don’t face this hurdle is to carve out an exception. This year, Tennessee did just that when it passed SB 1315: “Except for ballots authorized by state or federal law to be delivered electronically to qualified voters who are entitled to vote by absentee ballot, all absentee ballots must include a watermark approved by the coordinator of elections.”

To learn more about the challenges overseas and military voters face—and the policies that might mitigate them—check out this month’s issue of The Canvass. We spoke with experts at the Department of Defense's Federal Voting Assistance Program and the Council of State Governments’ Overseas Vote Initiative to better understand the voting landscape for those living abroad and to compile suggestions for both tech-based and non-tech solutions.

The newest Canvass also includes an interview with Massachusetts Senator Barry Finegold (D), a spotlight on time limits in voting booths, and various updates on legal challenges, recent enactments and other news worth noting.

Find the July issue here. Or subscribe to receive it straight in your inbox every month.

Amanda Zoch is an NCSL policy specialist and Mellon/ACLS Public Fellow.

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About the NCSL Blog

This blog offers updates on the National Conference of State Legislatures' research and training, the latest on federalism and the state legislative institution, and posts about state legislators and legislative staff. The blog is edited by NCSL staff and written primarily by NCSL's experts on public policy and the state legislative institution.