The topic of this thesis is the history of public debates concerning U.S. policy towards the absentee voting rights of the groups now covered by the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act (UOCAVA). More precisely, the central research question is: What factors have hindered or encouraged change in U.S. policy concerning the absentee voting rights of members of the uniformed services, their spouses and dependents accompanying them, and overseas citizens, from the 1940’s to the present? The thesis also addresses the questions of how policy has changed and how successful these changes have been at enfranchising these groups of citizens.
This thesis argues that partisan politics have been among the factors that have had a significant influence on U.S. policy debates concerning the voting rights of groups now covered by UOCAVA. In the 1940’s, opinion polls showed that Democrats would benefit from the military vote. As a consequence, the majority of Republicans in Congress opposed strong federal legislation aimed at enfranchising soldiers. In 2009, the Military and Overseas Voters Empowerment Act that made substantial changes to UOCAVA passed without much controversy.This thesis argues that one of the reasons for this lack of controversy was the fact that no one knows the exact size or “shape” of the overseas American population, something that has lead both Democrats and Republicans to claim that they have an edge in the UOCAVA vote. Efforts to amendment UOCAVA have avoided problems of partisan splits that have hindered many other election reform initiatives since the 2000 presidential debacle. This thesis also discusses how the 2000 election raised awareness of the continued problems relating to UOCAVA voting, and how it promoted change.
One of the other factors that are discussed in this thesis is states’ rights concerns. This thesis argues that legislation aimed at enfranchising members of the military during the Second World War was feared or revered for its potential of setting a precedent for further federal involvement in the field of voting. This thesis includes a discussion of the constitutional arguments that have been raised against or in support of legislation relevant to this thesis. Today, UOCAVA is simply categorized under federal powers to regulate elections under Article One, Section Four, Clause One of the Constitution.