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Military Voting: Residency Rules, Absentee Voting

It is important for everyone of voting age to have access to reliable information about their right to vote. This is especially true for military members who may have to vote while serving overseas or outside of their home state by absentee ballot.

What is Absentee Voting?

Absentee voting is a mechanism that allows registered voters to cast their ballot without going to the physical polling location correlated with their voting residence.

Every citizen can vote by absentee ballot, though some states require a valid reason, such as military service. Most states require eligible voters to request an absentee ballot for each election they intend to participate in.

Following the COVID-19 pandemic, many states have expanded their vote-by-mail programs. Depending on the state and personal situations, some voters may opt to vote by mail instead of an absentee ballot.

Learn about the voting-by-mail requirements in your state. 

What Laws Govern Absentee Voting for Military Members?

Federal laws that govern voting include the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act (UOCAVA), which is the legal basis for absentee voting requirements for U.S. citizens in the Uniformed Services and those residing outside of the United States.

Another act that pertains to absentee voting is the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA), which requires citizens to register to vote or change their voter registration when applying or receiving services at an office designated as a voter registration agency.

Through this act, Voter Assistance Offices have been implemented as U.S. military installations to provide assistance to military members, their families, and civilians working on military bases.

Related: Veteran Education Guide

Everything You Need to Know About Voting Residency

A voting residence is considered the legal residence and the address of the service member’s permanent home.

The voting residence indicates the state of legal residence, which determines eligibility and regulations for voting in state and federal elections. Typically, the voting residence is the same address listed on a service member’s Leave and Earnings Statement.

According to the Federal Voting Assistance Program (FVAP), the state of legal residence and voting residence are sometimes mistaken for home of record. The voting residence and home of record may be the same at the beginning of an individual’s military service, but the voting residence will need to be updated should the legal residence change at any point.

The state of legal residence is not automatically changed when a service member is assigned to a new duty location. It may be changed by submitting the proper paperwork to the finance office, but it is recommended that the service member consult legal counsel of the military legal assistance office.

Note that service members can only have one legal voting residence at a time.

Related: Veteran Education Guide

How to Cast an Absentee Vote as a Military Member

For military members voting by absentee ballot, the first step is to fill out the Federal Post Card Application (FPCA) and send it to their local election office. Filling out the FPCA ensures that the state of residence will send a ballot at least 45 days before the election.

The Federal Voting Assistance Program recommends checking the voter registration deadline for the next election by state and sending a new FCPA every January and each time the voting residence is changed.

For the General Election, a ballot should be received by early October, which will enable the vote to be cast and sent back to the election office to be counted. If for some reason, the absentee ballot is delayed or there is not enough time to send it back, eligible voters can still exercise their right to vote with the Federal Write-In Absentee Ballot (FWAB).

Military Spouses and Voting

Military spouses can follow the same process when voting absentee, as their right to vote is governed by the same laws that protect military members and overseas citizens.

Military spouses can retain the same residence as their Service member sponsor even if they are not physically present at that address, or they can choose to retain their established residency if it is different from their partner’s.

Voting Support Resources

A reliable source of information is the Federal Voting Assistance Program (FVAP), which is an organization that works to ensure Service members, their eligible family members, and overseas citizens are aware of their right to vote and have the tools and resources to do so.

For individuals who prefer in-person assistance, it is recommended to visit the Voter Assistance (IVA) at the nearest military installation to get in touch with a Voting Assistance Officer (VAO). The IVA can provide hard copies of forms, assistance in completing forms, and answer any questions about voting by absentee ballot.

Related: Veteran Education Guide

About the author

Sarah Tucci

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Sarah is a Philadelphia-based writer. She comes to CollegeRecon with an interdisciplinary background in international relations and cultural heritage with an interest in understanding the intersection of armed conflict and cultural heritage, particularly in Eastern and Southeastern Europe. When not writing for CollegeRecon, Sarah enjoys traveling, watching documentaries, and hanging out with her beloved Pitbull, Brutus.