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New Law Places New Requirements on States To Mail Out Ballots To Troops In Time to Give them 45 Days to Return Their Ballots

Also Requires Defense Department To Make Emergency Ballots Available Online So That Troops Can Print Them Out and Send Them Back

WASHINGTON, DC – U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer (D-NY), Chairman of the Senate Rules Committee, announced today that President Obama has signed into law his legislation to make it easier for U.S. troops to cast ballots from overseas. The measure—co-sponsored by Senators Saxby Chambliss (R-GA), Ben Nelson (D-NE), Senate Rules Committee Ranking Member Robert Bennett (R-UT) and 55 other senators—was attached to the Department of Defense authorization bill, which cleared the Senate on a 68-29 vote last week. 

President Obama signed the bill into law late Wednesday. 

“It is the least we can do for our troops to make sure their votes get counted when they are serving overseas,” said Schumer. “This bill will remove the barriers that too often conspire to disenfranchise our military men and women. Thanks to this quick passage by the Senate, it will take effect in time for next year’s federal elections.” 

The measure enacted today is based on Schumer’s Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment Act (“MOVE Act”). That bill was introduced after a Rules Committee survey last May showed that as many as one in four ballots cast by military and overseas voters went uncounted in last year’s presidential election. 

The bill would fix several of the flaws responsible for such widespread disenfranchisement. Among other provisions, it requires that all states provide military voters with ballots no later than 45 days prior to the election, so that they have adequate time to complete and return them. The bill would requires states to provide ballots electronically. Additionally, it beefs up the Federal Voting Assistance Program (FVAP) at the Department of Defense, which is the main source of election-related information and assistance for many members of the military.  

The legislation would also bar states from rejecting military ballots for lack of a “Notary” signature—a feat difficult to achieve in warzones like Iraq and Afghanistan.  

In May, the Senate Rules Committee released a study showing that as many as 25% of troops stationed overseas went uncounted in 2008. Schumer said the estimate was based on figures provided to the committee by election officials in seven of the states with the highest number of deployed troops. In 2008, military personnel and some civilians hailing from these states requested 441,000 ballots in order to vote from overseas locations, as allowed by the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act (UOCAVA). Of those, 98,633 were never received back by the election officials in the U.S. and so were declared “lost” ballots. Another 13,504 were received but rejected for various reasons including a missing signature or failure to notarize, as is required in some states. When combined, these two categories amount to 112,137 voters in those seven states—or 25.42% of the 441,000 who requested ballots—being disenfranchised, the study found.  

The impediments include: difficulties in registering to vote from overseas; not receiving ballots early enough; and obstacles to returning the ballots in time to be counted. The bill addresses these and other problems by: 

• Allows military voters the ability to receive registration forms and blank ballots electronically, ensuring that they can vote quickly and easily;

• Ensuring that states send out ballots a minimum of 45 days in advance of the election so military and overseas voters will receive them in time;

• Improving awareness and use of a failsafe ballot that voters can use if their ballots are lost in the mail;

• Prohibiting states from rejecting a marked absentee ballot solely on the basis of a missing notary signature, paper size, and other restrictions

• Giving more resources to the Department of Defense Voting Assistance Offices who provide voting information and support to service men and women and their families;

• Establishing standards for record-keeping on military and overseas voting statistics; and

• Encouraging greater enforcement of the military and overseas voting statutes.