3

In the United States, people who are not residents of individual states cannot vote in federal elections for President, Senators, and Representatives. However, US troops stationed overseas are allowed to vote by mail ballot. In some cases, states may allow citizens to vote from overseas even if they are not in the military.

What is the process by which US military personnel are assigned a state in which their vote will be counted? Can they choose any state they like (i.e., is it a result of federal regulation), or do each state set requirements for a citizen to be counted there? Does the same apply to personnel stationed inside the US but outside of their native state: do they count as in their original state?

To implement a similar process to enfranchise US citizens from Territories (excluding American Samoa, which houses US nationals and not citizens) by assigning them a state, following the same process as in the military, would it be just a matter of state law, or is there federal legislation regulating this?

2 Answers 2

2

In the US, people outside of the individual States cannot vote in the federal elections for President, Senators and Representatives.

Frame challenge: This is not true. Every state to some extent allows people registered to vote in that state to vote by mail. The extent to which this is allowed varies from state to state, but in general, people domiciled in a state who will for whatever reason be abroad, in some other state, or even in some other part of the state on election day are typically allowed to request to vote by mail (and to vote by mail), in many cases even for local elections. Even astronauts who are in space on election day can vote by encrypted electronic mail -- if they're domiciled in Texas. An Earthbound clerk sworn to confidentiality and to honesty transcribes the contents of the encrypted email to a paper ballot. (This is fairly new. The first time an astronaut was allowed to vote from space was in 1997.)

In some cases, even some people who have never stepped foot in the US can vote by mail. This capability varies from state to state; see Registering for a midterm election as a US citizen abroad (never-resident).

What is the process by which US military personnel are assigned a state in which their vote will be counted? Can they choose any state they like (i.e., is it a result of federal regulation), or do each state set requirements for a citizen to be counted there?

By default, it's the service member's "home of record" -- the state they came from when they signed up with the military. That said, service members can change the state in which they vote. They simply register to vote in the state in which they want to vote -- so long as doing so is legal in the state of choice and so long as they don't vote in their former voting residence.

Different states have different rules regarding voting residency. One very common rule is that registering to vote has to be done in person. Many states also have a residency requirement for voting, but this typically is not as long as the period of time needed to establish that state as the service member's legal residence.

For example, registering to vote in Texas and then voting in Texas is one of the pieces of evidence that a service member can use as evidence for changing their legal residence to Texas. (Obtaining a Texas driver's license, registering a vehicle in Texas, buying a home in Texas and declaring that as their homestead, having a bank account in Texas, and establishing a will in Texas also count.) Voting in Texas could not be used for legal residency if one first has to become a legal resident in order to vote there.

One's legal residence has tax implications. Changing one's legal residence from Maryland to Texas, for example, eliminates the state income tax paid to Maryland, and since Texas doesn't have a state income tax, service members who changes their legal residency to Texas pay less income tax.

When stationed abroad, service members typically cannot change their voting residency due to in-person requirements for registration, nor can they change their legal residency because this needs to be done while one is in residence in that state.

To implement a similar process to enfranchise US citizens from Territories (excluding American Samoa, which houses US nationals and not citizens) by assigning them a state, following the same process as in the military, would it be just a matter of state law, or is there federal legislation regulating this?

US citizens can move to any state and register to vote in that state. They simply have to follow the voter registration rules for the state to which they have moved. They of course have to have moved to that state. A number of former residents of Puerto Rico have done just that. (I wrote "former residents" because they eventually become residents of the state in which they registered to vote. They cannot, or at least should not (it's illegal), vote in Puerto Rican elections if they register to vote in a state.) America Samoa is an exception as people born there to non-citizens are themselves "non-citizen nationals." People born in other US territories are US citizens upon birth. People born to US citizens are US citizens regardless of where they're born. (They might not be eligible to run for US president or vice president.)

3
  • Good answer as far as it goes, but it doesn't seem to answer the final and primary question posed: if the mechanism used to allow other people not currently residing in a state to vote can be used for residents of U.S. territories.
    – ohwilleke
    Jan 25, 2023 at 20:50
  • @ohwilleke I saw that final question as secondary (or maybe even tertiary) rather than as primary. In any case, I answered it. Jan 25, 2023 at 21:45
  • Seems very correct, yes (thanks). So any state could theoretically change its laws to allow and implement what I described at the end, at the cost for these legally-former residents to losing their right to vote in the Territory. What is the source of that last illegality : Puerto Rican law, state law, or federal statute ? Jan 29, 2023 at 22:26
1

What is the process by which US military personnel are attributed a state in which their vote will be counted? Can they choose whatever state they like (i.e is it a result of federal regulation), or does each state set requirements for a citizen to count there?

Election law distinguishes between "domicile" which is the place you see as your permanent home, and "residence" which is where you happen to be living at the moment. This election law is implemented at the state level but in the shadow of federal law and the U.S. constitution (including federal statutes setting out the mechanics of how voting by military service members is implemented).

This applies, for example, to people such as soldiers, college students, people in nursing homes or hospitals, people in jail or prison (although the issue is moot for prisoners in prisons, who can only vote in the State of Maine), elected officials serving in Congress, elected officials serving as President or Vice President, and people on temporary vacations or work assignments outside a U.S. state.

Election laws provide that it is proper and legal to vote in the place where you have a domicile even if, on a temporary basis (which could still be all or a majority of the year) you don't currently reside there.

In the case of members of the military, some view their domicile as the place where they lived when they enlisted in the military, and others view it as the U.S. military base where their unit is stationed when they are not deployed abroad. This is largely a subjective choice which election officials and courts will honor if it has any reasonable basis.

Does it apply the same for personnel stationed inside the US but outside of their native state: do they count as in their original state?

Yes. A service member who considers himself or herself to be domiciled, for example, in the state where that service member lived when the service member enlisted, or in the state where the service member's spouse and children reside, can lawfully register to vote and vote there.

To implement a similar process to enfranchize US citizens from Territories (let's say excluding the Samoa as housing US nationals and not citizens) by attributing them a state, following the same process as in the military, would it be just a matter of state law, or is there federal legislation regulating this?

This doesn't work.

People in U.S. territories who both reside there and are domiciled there (the vast majority of people living in U.S. territories) aren't plausibly domiciled in any U.S. state and may not even have any real connection to any U.S. state.

Similarly, a U.S. citizen born abroad who has never lived in the U.S. has no place in the U.S. where they are domiciled.

Since the United States Constitution doesn't give people who are not domiciled in any U.S. state the right to vote in federal elections (except for people domiciled in the District of Columbia who can vote in Presidential elections only), this can't be changed by federal law or by federal regulations.

4
  • 1
    Not sure about the bit re: citizens born abroad who have never resided in the US - this answer seems to disagree for certain states.
    – CDJB
    Jan 25, 2023 at 10:00
  • 1
    Article 1 section 2 of the US constitution established the principle that the right to vote in federal elections is given to people who are qualified to vote in state elections, not the other way around. Subsequent amendments continue in this vein by prohibiting several grounds for denying the right to vote. There is no explicit provision in the constitution that positively establishes the qualifications for voting in a federal or state election, which is why the state laws that do allow certain people who are not domiciled in the state to vote are possible.
    – phoog
    Jan 26, 2023 at 0:20
  • Also 52 USC 20302 does not restrict itself to overseas voters who maintain their domicile in a US state; rather, it speaks of "the last place in which the person was domiciled before leaving the United States," past tense.
    – phoog
    Jan 26, 2023 at 0:21
  • I agree with the comments, the last part of the answer seems inaccurate. Jan 29, 2023 at 23:07

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .