The Canvass: States and Election Reform

A Newsletter for Legislatures

This article appeared in the January 2009 issue of The Canvass.

(Full Newsletter in PDF)  (Engaging State Legislatures in Election Reform Homepage)


Report:  Only Half of the States Give Military and Overseas Voters Adequate Time to Vote


by Doug Chapin, Director,

American military and civilians overseas face some of the greatest challenges when attempting to vote from overseas.  A patchwork of different state laws; difficulty in receiving accurate information; confusing and overly complex restrictions; and the inherent problems in relying on military and overseas mail to send and receive ballots all act as barriers to those attempting to vote from abroad.  Congress recognized these challenges, and the importance of protecting and aiding these voters, when it passed the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act (otherwise known as UOCAVA) in 1986.  Yet since that time, many of the same barriers remain in place.

In a new report from the Pew Center on the States, researchers found that one-third of all U.S. states do not provide enough time to vote for military personnel stationed overseas and as many as half of all states need to improve their absentee voting process to ensure that the votes of servicemen and women abroad will be counted.  The report, titled No Time to Vote: Challenges Facing America’s Overseas Military Voters,” is the first-ever detailed public analysis of states’ voting systems for military personnel stationed overseas.

For each of the 50 states and the District of Columbia, researchers calculated the amount of time it takes overseas military voters and election officials to complete each step of the absentee voting process.  The researchers then determined if all of the steps could be completed in time for each state’s election deadlines and assessed whether overseas military voters have enough time to vote.

The report found that:

The District of Columbia and 16 states do not provide enough time to vote for military personnel stationed overseas.  These states send out absentee ballots after the date necessary for military voters to meet all required deadlines. 

Three states are “at risk” for not allowing military personnel overseas enough time to vote.  These states provide just five or less additional days beyond the number necessary to complete the voting process. With such a limited cushion, minimal unanticipated delays at any stage of the process—due to mail delivery or the actions of election offices or voters—will result in voters from these states being less likely to return their completed ballots in time to be counted.

Six states provide enough time to vote only if military personnel overseas return their completed absentee ballots by fax or e-mail – a requirement that raises concerns about access to technology and the privacy and security of their votes. 

The analysis found that four policy options can help bring about improvements in the 25 states and District of Columbia that need to improve the voting process for military overseas voters, although not every reform is right for every state:

Expanding the use of the Federal Write-in Absentee Ballot, a back-up measure for military voters who do not receive their state ballots in time;

Allowing election materials to be transmitted electronically;

Ensuring a minimum of 45 days to allow ballots to travel between voters and election offices; and,

Eliminating a requirement that military voters have their completed ballots notarized before returning them.

Through this report and our ongoing programs, Pew’s Make Voting Work initiative is committed to the belief that every American, no matter where he or she lives, deserves an election system that is accurate, convenient, efficient, and secure.  If you would like more information about No Time to Vote, please contact David Becker at





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