Lyndon B. Johnson photo

Statement by the President on Signing Bills Amending the Federal Voting Assistance Act of 1955.

June 18, 1968

TODAY I am signing two bills designed to extend the voting franchise for overseas American citizens.

Both of these bills--S. 1581 and S. 2884--are amendments to the Federal Voting Assistance Act of 1955. That act is a purely hortatory statute that encourages the States to provide absentee ballot facilities for the following four categories of voters and their spouses and dependents:

--members of the Armed Forces,

--members of the Merchant Marine,

--overseas civilian employees of the Government,

--members of religious or welfare groups assisting servicemen.

The provisions of the Voting Assistance Act apply to all elections--Federal, State, or local. Under it, the States are encouraged to provide a simplified system of absentee registration and voting, including uniform procedures for ballot applications and adequate time for ballots to be transmitted. To expedite the ballot applications, the act provides for a standard Federal postcard application form, with free airmail handling. To prevent fraud, the application requires a sworn statement giving the identity and domestic address of the applicant, as well as a sworn statement that the applicant is not voting elsewhere.

The first bill that I am signing today-S. 1581--amends the Voting Assistance Act to encourage the States to allow members of the Armed Forces and their dependents residing on military reservations to register and vote in the State where the reservation is located. At the present time, all but three of the States refuse to allow such military personnel to vote as residents of the State.

In addition, S. 1581 urges the States to authorize certain overseas Federal officials to administer oaths in connection with the absentee registration and voting requirements of State law. At the present time, only a narrow category of Federal officials is authorized to administer such oaths under the Voting Assistance Act. As a result, an official authorized to administer the oath is frequently inaccessible to overseas employees of the Government, especially employees who are assigned in relatively small groups to isolated areas. For example, Mr. Vaughn, the Director of the Peace Corps, has informed me that a major obstacle to voting by Peace Corps trainees and volunteers is their inability to obtain access to an officer authorized to administer oaths for their ballot applications.

The second bill that I am signing today-S. 2884--extends the benefits of the Voting Assistance Act to all citizens of the United States temporarily residing outside the country. The benefits of the Act are, of course, already available to overseas employees of the Government. S. 2884 would make these benefits available to all overseas Americans, whether or not employed by the Government. The amendment is thus a modest step toward enfranchising thousands of Americans engaged in business, teaching, and other activities abroad.

As is true of the existing provisions of the Voting Assistance Act, the amendments made by the two bills that I am signing today are merely recommendations to the States, and the States are under no obligation to accept them.

Although I welcome the opportunity to sign these measures into law, I regret that the Congress has not yet seen fit to act on the Residency Voting Act, which I submitted to the Congress more than a year ago on behalf of the administration. I proposed the Residency Voting Act in order to eliminate the arbitrary disfranchisements imposed on American citizens residing within the United States itself. In every presidential election year in the United States, millions of Americans are unable to vote for their President because of the arbitrary and unreasonable residence requirements operating in the 50 States. Since the provisions of the Residency Voting Act would apply only in the case of presidential elections, the bill would not infringe any legitimate interest of any State.

An analysis of the 1960 presidential election, the most recent election year for which reliable figures are available, indicates that between 5 and 8 million Americans were disfranchised because they moved their residence from one State to another, or even, in many cases, simply from one county to another. The only fault of these citizens is the exercise of their constitutionally protected right to travel freely within the United States--to pull up stakes and seek a new life.

The bills that I sign today, although significant in terms of overseas American voters, do not reach the plight of our disfranchised voters here at home. I urge the Congress to recognize the grave injustice in depriving these citizens of the precious right to vote-the right that is preservative of all other rights in our society. I urge the Congress to act in this session on the Residency Voting Act.

Note: As enacted, S. 1581 is Public Law 90-344 (82 Stat. 181) and S. 2884 is Public Law 90-343 (82 Stat. 180).

Lyndon B. Johnson, Statement by the President on Signing Bills Amending the Federal Voting Assistance Act of 1955. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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