(PDF provides a complete and accurate display of this text.)
105th Congress Report 105-183
HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
1st Session Part I
TO GUARANTEE THE RIGHT OF ALL ACTIVE DUTY MILITARY PERSONNEL, MERCHANT
MARINERS, AND THEIR DEPENDENTS TO VOTE IN FEDERAL, STATE, AND LOCAL
July 15, 1997.--Committed to the Committee of the Whole House on the
State of the Union and ordered to be printed
Mr. Stump, from the Committee on Veterans' Affairs, submitted the
R E P O R T
[To accompany H.R. 699]
[Including cost estimate of the Congressional Budget Office]
The Committee on Veterans' Affairs, to whom was referred
the bill (H.R. 699) to guarantee the right of all active duty
military personnel, merchant mariners, and their dependents to
vote in Federal, State, and local elections, having considered
the same, reports favorably thereon without amendment and
recommends that the bill do pass.
On February 12, 1997, the Honorable Henry Bonilla was
joined by the Honorable Sam Johnson, in the introduction of
H.R. 699, to amend the Soldiers' and Sailors' Civil Relief Act
of 1940 and the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting
Act, to guarantee the right of all active duty military
personnel, merchant mariners, and their dependents to vote in
Federal, State, and local elections.
The full Committee met on June 4, 1997 and considered H.R.
699. The Committee received testimony from the Honorable Henry
Bonilla, the Honorable Sam Johnson, Colonel Bruce A. Brown,
USAF, Lieutenant General Thad A. Wolfe, USAF (Ret), Chairman,
Air Force Association Veterans and Retirees Council, on behalf
of the Military Coalition, Mr. John Molino, Association of the
U.S. Army, Mr. Larry D. Rhea, Non Commissioned Officers
Association, Mr. Bob Manhan, Veterans of Foreign Wars, Mr.
Johnny H. Killian, Senior Specialist, American Constitutional
Law, Congressional Research Service, and Ms. Phyllis J. Taylor,
Director for Federal Voting Assistance Programs, Department of
The full Committee met on June 12, 1997, and ordered H.R.
699 reported favorably to the House by unanimous voice vote.
Summary of the Reported Bill
H.R. 699 would:
1. LAmend the Soldiers' and Sailors' Civil Relief Act of
1940 to extend additional voting rights protections to active
duty military personnel, and guarantee that absences incurred
as a result of military service do not result in the loss of
residency for voting purposes.
2. LAmend the Uniformed and Overseas Absentee Voting Act to
make explicit the right of active duty military personnel,
members of the merchant marine, and their spouses and
dependents to vote in all Federal, State, and local elections.
Background and Discussion
As a result of a legal challenge to absentee military votes
cast in a November, 1996 election, the Honorable Henry Bonilla
and the Honorable Sam Johnson introduced H.R. 699, the Military
Voting Rights Act of 1997. H.R. 699 would amend the Soldiers'
and Sailors' Civil Relief Act of 1940 (50 U.S.C. App. 510 et
seq.) by adding a new section which would extend additional
voting rights protections to active duty military personnel.
The bill would guarantee that, for voting purposes, absences
from a State in compliance with military orders would not
result in the loss of residency, or the acquisition of a
residence or domicile in any other State. H.R. 699 would also
amend the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act
(42 U.S.C. 1973ff-1) to make explicit the right of active duty
military personnel, members of the merchant marine, and their
spouses and dependents to vote in all federal, state, and local
Due to the nature of military service, Congress has long
recognized that legislation is necessary to assist members of
the military in meeting certain personal obligations and
exercising certain legal rights. During the Civil War, the
United States Congress enacted an absolute moratorium on civil
actions brought against Federal soldiers and sailors. During
World War I, Congress passed the Soldiers' and Sailors' Civil
Relief Act of 1918 which directed trial courts to take whatever
action equity required when a servicemember's rights were
involved in a legal dispute. The Soldiers' and Sailors' Civil
Relief Act of 1940 (``the Act'') is essentially a reenactment
of the 1918 law updated in light of experiences during World
War II and subsequent armed conflicts.
Generally, the Act provides relief with respect to various
civil and personal obligations, but does not cover criminal
offenses. The World War I law was enacted to help people who
had taken on financial burdens without knowing they would be
called upon to serve in the military. Frequent applications of
the Act today include protecting people from being evicted from
rental or mortgaged property, protecting against cancellation
of life insurance policies, protecting servicemembers from
having their property sold to pay taxes that are due, and
protecting servicemembers from losing certain rights to public
land. One of the rules that affects almost everyone called to
active duty provides that interest of no more than six percent
a year can be charged by a lender on a debt which a
servicemember incurred before he or she went on active duty.
Moreover, while the Act does not eliminate any obligations, it
does, for example, temporarily suspend the right of a creditor
to use a court to compel payment by a servicemember. In such a
case, the court must determine that the servicemember's
inability to pay the debt is a result of military service, and
the servicemember is still responsible for the debt.
Consequently, under certain circumstances, legal proceedings
will be suspended during a servicemember's tour of duty, so
that upon return to civilian life, the servicemember might have
an opportunity to be heard and to take measures to protect his
or her interests. The U.S. Supreme Court has said that the Act
must be read with ``an eye friendly to those who dropped their
affairs to answer their country's call.'' Le Maistre v.
Leffers, 333 U.S. 1, 6 (1948).
The right of servicemembers to vote in state and local
elections is a subject with nation-wide ramifications. As was
recently demonstrated in Texas, burdensome challenges may be
initiated against military voters in conjunction with any
election. Article I, section 2, clause 1 of the United States
Constitution provides that a State may set voter requirements,
but they are subject to the limitations of the 15th, 19th,
24th, and 26th amendments, and to the Equal Protection Clause
of the 14th amendment of the Constitution. States can and do
impose reasonable residence requirements for voting. ``The
privilege to vote in a State is within the jurisdiction of the
State itself, to be exercised as the State may direct, and upon
such terms as to it may seem proper, provided, of course, no
discrimination is made between individuals in violation of the
Federal Constitution.'' Pope v. Williams, 193 U.S. 621, 632
(1904). The U.S. Supreme Court has also held that ``A state can
impose reasonable residence requirements for voting but it
cannot, under the Equal Protection Clause, deny the ballot to a
bona fide resident merely because he is a member of the armed
forces.'' Carrington v. Rash, 380 U.S. 89, 89-97 (1965).
It is understandable that a State would only want bona fide
residents to vote in its elections. In general, a ``residence''
in a State is any place of abode that is more than temporary. A
person's ``domicile'' is the place where an individual has his
or her permanent home or principal establishment, to where,
whenever such a person is absent, he or she has the intention
of returning and remaining indefinitely.
Servicemembers are often required to lead mobile
lifestyles, with little or no ability to determine the duration
or location of their tour of duty. Indeed, it is quite common
for members of the military to serve in many locations across
the country, as well as abroad, in the course of their service.
Due to the nature of military service, active duty personnel
and their spouses and dependents must be assured that they can
vote by absentee ballot, a practice which many States began
during the Civil War. The proposed section 704 of the Soldiers'
and Sailors' Civil Relief Act of 1940 would address a
servicemember's legal residence, for voting purposes, in a
manner consistent with other provisions of the Act. For
instance, section 514 of the Soldiers' and Sailors' Civil
Relief Act of 1940 (50 U.S.C. App. 574) governs a
servicemember's legal residence for purposes of State taxation.
The Act provides that a servicemember neither loses nor
acquires a residence by reason of being absent or present in
any jurisdiction in compliance with military orders. This
provision was added ``to prevent multiple state taxation of the
property and income of military personnel serving within
various taxing jurisdictions through no choice of their own.''
H.R. Rep. No. 2198, 77th Cong. 2d Sess. 6 (1942). Consequently,
under section 514 of the Act, the servicemember's residence
does not change when his or her tour of duty ends and the
servicemember receives military orders to report to a new
Residency for voting purposes presents a situation which is
analogous to the multiple taxation problem. In the taxation
situation, States may attempt to treat the servicemember who is
physically present in the State like other residents who pay
state taxes. However, in the voting situation, a problem arises
when States try to treat the servicemember in a manner
different from other residents who are temporarily absent from
the State. In both instances, the servicemember's presence is
in accordance with military orders. However, receipt of
military orders to report to a new locale does not result in
the servicemember obtaining a new domicile. That is, the
servicemember's intent to return to and remain indefinitely in
the state in which he or she has a permanent home, however that
home is established, is not altered merely as a result of
military orders. Thus, if this legislation is enacted, such
orders would not result in a new residency for voting purposes,
just as they do not result in a new residency for state
A servicemember's physical move may raise the question of
residence. If the servicemember, upon arrival at a new locale,
takes actions which are generally considered in the
determination of residency and domicile, such as registering to
vote, obtaining automobile insurance and registration, opening
a bank account, filing state income tax returns, or making a
determination that the new locale will be his or her new
permanent home, then, depending on the action taken and the
state residency criteria, the residence of the servicemember
for voting or other purposes may be ripe for determination. But
a transfer pursuant to military orders, ipso facto, may not
result in a change of residence for voting purposes.
Under existing section 514 of the Soldiers' and Sailors'
Civil Relief Act of 1940, the residence of the servicemember
is, in effect, merged with, or prevented from being
distinguished from, the domicile of the servicemember. A
similar result should follow if the proposed section 704 is
enacted. Consequently, if a servicemember takes action to
establish residency in a particular state and meets the state
qualifications of a bona fide resident, then upon receipt of
his or her orders to report to a new station, the servicemember
would not lose his or her residency merely as a result of
military service. Finally, it is foreseeable that a person on
active military duty would have a legal residence in a state in
which he or she has not lived for some time, but intends to
return to and to remain indefinitely. In such a case, the
servicemember should be able to vote in the same manner as
other residents of that State.
Section 1 would provide that the short title of the Act
would be the ``Military Voting Rights Act of 1997.''
Section 2 would amend article VII of the Soldiers' and
Sailors' Civil Relief Act of 1940 (50 U.S.C. App. 510 et. seq.)
by adding a new section. Section 704 would guarantee that
absences incurred as a result of military service do not result
in the loss of residency for voting purposes.
Section 3 would amend section 102 of the Uniformed and
Overseas Absentee Voting Act (42 U.S.C. 1973ff-1) to make
explicit the right of active duty military personnel, members
of the merchant marine, and their spouses and dependents to
vote in all Federal, State, and local elections.
No oversight findings have been submitted to the Committee
from the Committee on Government Reform and Oversight.
Views of the Administration
At the Committee's legislative hearing on June 4, 1997, Ms.
Phyllis Taylor, Director of the Federal Voting Assistance
Program, Office of the Secretary of Defense, stated ``The
Federal Voting Assistance Program in working within state and
local government statutory requirements and consulting with
state and local election officials in carrying out the
responsibilities of the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens
Absentee Voting Act continues making progress in streamlining
and bringing uniformity to the electoral process. The adoption
of H.R. 699, would further facilitate the electoral process and
ensure the enfranchisement of Uniformed Service citizens.
Specifically, the adoption of H.R. 699 would ensure those
citizens serving our Nation would have continued opportunity to
participate in their democracy at all levels of government.
H.R. 699 would also further support all the state and territory
statutes providing a local, state and Federal office ballot to
Uniformed Service voters.''
Congressional Budget Office Cost Estimate
The following letter was received from the Congressional
Budget Office concerning the cost of the reported bill:
Congressional Budget Office,
Washington, DC, July 8, 1997.
Hon. Bob Stump,
Chairman, Committee on Veterans' Affairs,
House of Representatives, Washington, DC.
Dear Mr. Chairman: The Congressional Budget Office has
prepared the enclosed cost estimate for H.R. 699, the Military
Voting Rights Act of 1997.
If you wish further details on this estimate, we will be
pleased to provide them.
June E. O'Neill,
CONGRESSIONAL BUDGET OFFICE COST ESTIMATE
H.R. 699--Military Voting Rights Act of 1997
As ordered reported by the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs
on June 12, 1997
When members of the armed forces are absent from their home
states, current law requires that states allow them to use
absentee ballots to vote in federal elections, but it has no
such requirement for state and local elections. H.R. 699 would
require that state governments allow such individuals to vote
by absentee ballot in state and local elections, and it would
establish that a servicemember cannot be deemed to have lost
residence in a state solely because of an absence that is due
to militay or naval orders.
CBO estimates that H.R. 699 would have no significant cost
to the federal government. Because it would not affect direct
spending or receipts, pay-as-you-go procedures would not apply.
Section 4 of the Unfunded Mandates Reform Act excludes from
consideration under that act any bill that would enforce the
constitutional rights of individuals. CBO has determined that
H.R 699 fits within that exclusion because it would affect the
right of active-duty military personnel to vote in federal,
state, and local elections.
The estimate was prepared by Valerie Barton, who can be
reached at 226-2840. This estimate was approved by Robert A.
Sunshine, Deputy Assistant Director for Budget Analysis.