Overseas voting measures aim for the local level

Efforts are under way to extend MOVE Act requirements to state and local elections

The Military and Overseas Voters Empowerment (MOVE) Act requires states to allow voters to electronically request and receive absentee ballots for federal elections, and a proposed uniform state law would extend those requirements to state and local elections.

The Uniform Military and Overseas Voters Act was drafted by the Uniform Law Commission (ULC) and is being disseminated to state legislatures, said Chip Levengood, chairman of the Overseas Vote Foundation, which took part in developing the model legislation. He said the organization hopes that half the states will approve it in time for the 2012 elections.

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“It’s not a no-brainer,” he said. States are protective of their control over elections. But uniform laws proposed by the commission usually are widely adopted.

ULC is an independent organization financed by the 50 states, U.S. territories and the District of Columbia. It drafts legislation such as the Uniform Commercial Code that helps ensure that state laws do not conflict with one another.

“This is the first time they have worked with election laws,” Levengood said.

The MOVE Act has gone a long way toward ensuring that overseas voters will not be disenfranchised by setting deadlines for states to make ballots available and requesting that states make them available electronically. But those laws apply only to elections for federal office. Although states usually make the full slate of state and local candidates available on overseas absentee ballots, there are differences in how states handle many issues.

One problem is how to handle residency requirements for nondomiciled children — children who are U.S. citizens but have not lived in the country long enough to establish legal residence and register to vote by the time they are adults. Many such children growing up with parents overseas are effectively blocked from voting because there is no mechanism to allow them to register, Levengood said. The uniform law would establish consistent requirements.

ULC established a committee for the voting law in 2008. It typically takes about four years to approve proposed legislation, but the project was fast-tracked so states could begin adopting it in time for the 2012 elections. The draft was approved by the full commission in July.

About the Author

William Jackson is a Maryland-based freelance writer.


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