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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 
                               ELECTIONS

 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 
                               following

                              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.

                              Introduction

    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 
Defense.
    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 
elections.
    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 
station.
    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 
taxation purposes.
    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-By-Section Analysis

    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.

                           Oversight Findings

    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:

                                     U.S. Congress,
                               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.

            Sincerely,
                                           June E. O'Neill,
                                                          Director.

    Enclosure

               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.