Letter to the Governors Concerning Uniform State Legislation on Absentee Voting Rights of Members of the Armed Services.
[Released February 7, 1955. Dated February 2, 1955]
I am writing to you and to the other Governors on a matter of common concern to all Americans: the provision to our men and women in the Armed Services, on duty away from home, of effective opportunities voluntarily to vote by State absentee ballot in elections of Federal, State, and local officers.
It is basic to our American freedom and to the paramount importance which Americans attach to the rights of individual citizens that every eligible person who wishes to exercise the right to vote should have a fair, uninfluenced opportunity to do so. In the case of individuals serving their country in the armed forces, the assurance of this opportunity to exercise the free right of suffrage should be a special obligation of the State and Federal Governments.
Under plans approved last December, it is probable that approximately three million men and women may be in the Active Forces of the United States at the time of the 1956 Elections. Of this number, assuming a continuation of circumstances hitherto existing, it is reasonable to estimate that between a half-million and a million who are of voting age and otherwise eligible to vote, will then be overseas, scattered in various parts of the world and at sea.
The Armed Services stand ready to give every assistance, as they did in World War II, in providing a chance for each serviceman and servicewoman voluntarily to vote, if he or she wishes. The experience of World War II, when some 2,700,000 servicemen voted in the 1944 Election, shows that effective opportunities for service people to vote overseas by State absentee ballot depends on close working cooperation between the Armed Services and the several States and, especially, on there being generally uniform provisions in State laws as to voting qualifications, regulations, and administrative provisions.
In order for a serviceman overseas to vote by State absentee ballot, he must appropriately apply in writing by air mail for such ballot to his domiciliary voting place, receive the ballot overseas by air mail pursuant to such application, execute the ballot overseas under usual safeguards to insure secrecy, and return the ballot by air mail to his domiciliary voting place in time to be counted. The mobility of troops, the volume of air mail, the problems involved in providing overseas to service personnel accurate voting information relative to 48 States, the hazards of armed service, and other causes contribute toward burdening the ability of the Armed Services to assist. One thing, however, experience in World War II has made certain: the greater the uniformity in State voting laws, the more effective is the opportunity of overseas service people to cast ballots which will arrive home in time to be counted.
I am informed that various uniform provisions which were adopted by many States in their voting laws during World War II, have lapsed or have been modified in ways departing from the uniform criteria which made servicemen voting then a practical possibility. It was stated last winter that the voting laws of three-quarters of the States fell short of the criteria established in World War II as substantially necessary to assure effective overseas voting by service people.
There was introduced in the Congress on January 26, 1955, H.R. 3121, a Bill "to permit and assist Federal personnel, including members of the Armed Forces, and their families, to exercise their voting franchise, and for other purposes," (a copy of which is attached). This Bill has my support, and I shall ask the leaders of both parties to join on a non-partisan basis in speeding its passage through the Congress.
Part of this Bill concerns only Federal activities and seeks to codify and improve existing Federal law. The rest of the Bill, however, concerns the States, and contains recommendations to them to enact uniform legislative provisions, which are expressed in careful detail in Title II. These uniform provisions have been tested against the experience of World War II voting in order to meet the criteria which were then found necessary to provide effective opportunities to vote.
I hope that you will wish to have introduced and enacted in the 1955 Legislative Session of your State the uniform voting provisions above referred to. If this action is not taken in 1955 by your State Legislature, there may be neither the time nor the occasion for your State Legislature to act effectively in 1956, without a Special Session.
Therefore, I urge you to deal promptly with this matter, which concerns the individual rights, as citizens, of the men and women who are defending our country all over the world.
I am asking the Secretary of Defense to coordinate all activities of the Federal Government in the field of servicemen voting, and in due course he or his designee will directly offer to your State such cooperation and assistance as his office may be able to afford.
Please accept my personal regard and do not hesitate to ask for any help that I can give in furthering this basic American cause.
DWIGHT D. EISENHOWER
Dwight D. Eisenhower, Letter to the Governors Concerning Uniform State Legislation on Absentee Voting Rights of Members of the Armed Services. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/233871