Empowering the EAC

The Electoral Assistance Commission (EAC) was established following the enactment of the Help America Vote Act of 2002 (HAVA). It will, among other things, oversee the process of determining how many ballots have been voted from abroad.

The EAC should have four commissioners — two appointed by the Democratic Party and two by the Republican Party. Three are needed for the EAC to conduct votes, write policy and issue advisory opinions; this quorum has not existed since 2010. The House Committee on Rules and Administration, given oversight of the EAC, last met on February 12, 2014 — and the formal nominations of the two Democrats appointed by President Obama were put off again. During the Committee's December 2013 hearings, a debate ensued about whether the EAC should even exist. Its funding and resources have been severely cut in recent years.  Nonpartisan organizations like the League of Women Voters and the Brennan Center routinely demonstrate their support for the EAC by objecting to attempts to eliminate it.  They agree the EAC’s role in counting overseas ballots, among other mandates, is crucial. The four commissioners are needed, and the EAC is needed.

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Enfranchising Americans born abroad

American citizens born and residing overseas, who file taxes, register with the Selective Service and are for all other purposes recognized as American, are not yet entitled to vote in all states. The Uniform Law Commission passed a model statute known as the Uniform Military and Overseas Voters Act (UMOVA) in 2010, which enfranchises Americans born and residing overseas and it is slowly being implemented by states. Currently, 36 states plus the District of Columbia have passed legislation allowing Americans born and residing overseas to vote, although several allow them to vote only under certain conditions. In the other states, American citizens who have never resided in the US and whose parents were last resident in states other than these 37, remain officially disenfranchised.[1]

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Legislative Advancements

The 2009 Military and Overseas Empowerment Act (MOVE Act) mandated that states send blank ballots, including by electronic means, to voters at least 45 days prior to an election. This is an incredibly important step in helping to resolve a key problem of overseas American enfranchisement: of those who wished to vote in 2008, but could not, half were unable to vote because they did not receive their ballot in time.[1]  Receiving the ballot in time to vote and return it is perhaps the most important issue with respect to overseas voting. The MOVE Act has been a crucial step forward.

Nearly as important for overseas voting has been the 2002 Help America Vote Act (HAVA).HAVA mandates that overseas absentee ballots be tabulated separately from domestic absentee ballots, and created the Election Assistance Commission (EAC), whose mandate includes overseeing that process.

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Voting From Abroad

Introduction
Overseas Americans – estimated at 8.7 million – have had the right to vote in federal elections since 1975 thanks to grassroots campaigning by citizens and organizations, particularly Democrats Abroad. Since that time, it's become clear that a theoretical right to vote does not necessarily translate into an effective reality. Each state has different procedures and deadlines, information distribution is difficult, and mail delivery times can be problematic.

Great strides have been made in recent years. More overseas Americans than ever before who wish to vote are able to do so. Congress passed important legislation both protecting and facilitating overseas citizens' ability to vote. Online registration tools like Vote From Abroad at www.votefromabroad.org have made it even easier to send a yearly request for ballot required by the law.