Why is voting different for military members and their families?
Voting in the U.S. is controlled and conducted by state governments who have various rules, whether it's voting early for early, by absentee or at local polls if a local voter is temporarily gone on election day. Military voting is different because extended or overseas absences can prevent service members from using normal state voting rules. A special law, called the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act, or UOCAVA, requires that the states and territories allow certain groups to register and vote absentee in federal elections.
What if I am deployed?
While a few deploying or deployed members may be able to vote at their local polls prior to departure or will return in time to vote at their local polls, most deployed members must use the absentee voting process if they want to vote. Local briefings during deployment processing should encourage deploying members to take a copy of two voting forms with them: the SF-76, or Federal Post Card Application, and the SF-186, or Federal Write-In Absentee Ballot. Base voting action officers (or unit voting assistance officer) and Personnel Support for Contingency Operations team members can help. PERSCO teams should also have copies of the SF-76 and SF-186. The SF-76 is available at the Federal Voting Assistance Program Web site.
Who is eligible to vote under the UOCAVA law?
All members of the U.S. uniformed services (on active duty) including Merchant Marines, their family members and U.S. citizens residing outside the U.S.
Do all military members vote under the UOCAVA law or can I vote locally?
Military and family members stationed/working in their voting residence city and state, may vote locally at the polls or use their state's absentee process. Each state has specific residency and voter registration requirements. State rules and most required forms can be found at the FVAP Web site by searching your "state name" and entering the words "voting" or "election." Phone numbers for local election or voting offices can be found in a phone book's "government offices" section. Even if it is not one's home state, military members may vote in the state or territory where they are stationed if they change their legal residence to that state or territory. Even if service members live on a military installation, just registering to vote at their new location will often result in a change in legal residence. Because there are legal and tax obligations that may be incurred, people should visit their base legal office for advice on local and state tax policies. Voters using UOCAVA protections continue to remain voting and tax residents of their home state without regard to the places their duty has taken them.
Where is my "legal voting residence?"
For voting purposes, the "legal voting residence" can be the state or territory where the service member last resided prior to entering military service or the state or territory that a service member has since claimed as the legal residence. To claim a new legal residence, one must have simultaneous physical presence and the intent to return to that location as the primary residence. Military and family members can choose to change their legal residence every time they change permanent duty stations. Military members and their families can have different legal voting residences. A legal officer should be consulted before legal residence is changed because there are usually other factors, besides voting, that need to be considered. People (such as property owners) can claim residency even though they may no longer maintain formal ties to that former residence address. All related paperwork should list the former address because it is needed to place people in a proper voting district, ward, precinct or parish.