Question regarding military voting laws during WWII or prior


Niall Ferguson’s “Colossus” p. 76 (paperback edition) on the subject of transitioning from Allied/American military rule to democratic self-government in post-war Germany:

General Lucius D. Clay: “I did not have very much experience in the field (of democracy) myself, never having voted at that time. I came from a state where soldiers were not allowed to vote”.

I presume he’s referring the military absentee vote, but I’m not sure. It isn’t clear. Which states gave soldiers permission to vote? Which did not? Clay was born in Georgia (Lucius D. Clay - Wikipedia). So Georgia didn’t give soldiers the vote during WWII. My question concerns US voting laws for soldiers. I had never seen any reference to this aspect of WWII until now. I hope someone has some knowledge on this topic. I look forward to your feedback.

The Presidential Elections of 1864 and 1944 both occurred with troops at a battlefront. Off-year federal elections, 1918 and 1942, also occurred with United States Servicemen engaged in hostilities. Debate over the rights of the soldiers to vote existed before and during each of these elections. No one ever questioned whether soldiers earned the privilege of voting, except possibly the Southern Democrats with regard to African-Americans. The question centered more on the matter of which party or presidential candidate soldiers may provide an advantage.

Pennsylvania, New York and New Jersey already possessed absentee voting; many other states pursued new legislation to enable their service members to vote. Others reverted to old but unused measures. In Georgia, Governor Ellis Arnall pushed a pro-service member bill through the state legislature. Months before, through the eighth amendment to the Georgia Constitution, Arnall already lowered the voting age to eighteen.21 West Virginia also enacted special legislation dealing with service member voting. Arkansas took perhaps the most dramatic step for a Southern state restoring a 1923 law abolishing the poll tax for soldiers. Special sessions occurred in January as the state legislatures of Connecticut, Colorado, Illinois, Iowa, Michigan and Wisconsin all debated service member-voting laws. The Governor of New Jersey, Charles Edison suggested the states mail postcards to service members as opposed to requirement of the service member requesting a ballot. The new laws initiated by state governments produced no major gains toward uniformity.22Regardless of state voting regulations, the United States Congress still faced the problem of issuing and collecting ballots. Compromise appeared as the only hope for a workable solution.

Without detailed biographical information about Clay, it’s difficult to say where he maintained his legal residence during World War II. I doubt that he was still a resident of Georgia.

As you might imagine, with changes in technology, and with 50 state laws and federal law (enacted under the “times, places, and manner” clause) in play, the history of soldier voting is long and convoluted. Here is a very good history. (pdf)

Thanks Freddy the Pig. I looked at
but found only information as it pertains to military voting today. There are statutes mentioned but none of the details I’m trying to find out. I’d like to know more about the background of the soldier voting issue. It does have a long history. You have a point about General Clay’s state probably not being his home state but I have no information on his residential status at the time.

If anyone knows of a book that offers a comprehensive background on this subject, I would appreciate it.

In addition to residency issues, before World War II, there was a feeling among some active duty officers that voting was unethical…that the military shouldn’t be involved in politics.

But this pdf gives a good outline of historical barriers to soldier voting:

I know that Marshall and Eisenhower both took not voting as a matter of principle.

Thanks Captain Amazing. What I gleaned from the article that interests me foremost was the following:

“The Democratic Party was able to overcome Republican resistance and amendments to the 1942 law were passed and became law on April 1, 1944. Of about 9.2 million voting-age personnel on active duty in 1944, 4.4 million requested ballots for the 1944 general election and about 2.6 million returned them, a 29.1 percent voting turnout rate based on the then-minimum voting age of 21. In the same year, the turnout rate among eligible civilians was about 60 percent. the military absentee vote comprised about 5.6 percent of the total popular vote for president. no data exists on the voting patterns of military personnel who happened to be in the united states and in their home precincts.”

In Niall Ferguson’s book “Colossus”, General Clay is quoted as saying “I came from a state where soldiers were not allowed to vote”. In 1945 while Military Governor of the American Occupied Zone in Germany he had apparently not voted before because his state didn’t allow soldiers to vote. Were some states then still not giving soldiers the right to vote even after 1944? Why did he not vote in the 144 General Election?

Perhaps this answers the equation. From the above same link:

“Voting participation by American military personnel has been minimal for most of the history of the United States. The primary reason is wide variances in state laws that present legal and practical barriers to remotely stationed military personnel and serve to restrict access to a ballot. Coordinated action on the part of the Federal Government to reduce those barriers began during World War II but
only became somewhat effective with the enactment of
the Uniformed overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act of 1986.”

Sorry about that, I’m having trouble with the Caltech links. There’s another Caltech-MIT report on The History of Military Voting that I was trying to link to. Google it under that name and you’ll find it. It’s very thorough and should answer all of your questions.

That attitude may have persisted to some extent. My father was an Air Force officer from the time of the Korean War, and on principle he never voted until he retired.

This looks like the link you mean:

Very useful. Thank you.

Yeah, that’s the one. Not a Caltech report after all. Good stuff though.

I remember my father talking about how his first vote was a soldier ballot that he sent in for Thomas E. Dewey. He admitted, however, that he had little confidence that it eventually reached its destination and was counted.

The Story of a Common Soldier of Army Life in the Civil War, by Leander Stillwell, Late of Co. D, 61st Illinois Infantry

Chapter XIX
The problem of the soldier vote agitated the Civil War as it did World War II. The Republican party was particularly eager to provide opportunity for soldiers to go home to vote or machinery for voting in the field. Both methods were widely used in the state elections of 1863 and the Presidential election of 1864. The Wisconsin soldier vote–which James Leonard describes–was decisive in the election of a chief justice. That the soldier vote was decisive in the 1864 election, too, is generally conceded–and this notwithstanding such sup port for McClellan as is revealed by George Breck, of Rochester, New York. Thousands of soldiers were furloughed home at voting time. Lincoln wrote to Sherman, for example, that it might be well to let Indianas soldiers “or any part of them go home and vote at the state elections,” and so enthusiastically did Sherman act on the suggestion that the ,9th Vermont Volunteers found themselves voting in the Indiana elections which the Republicans carried. Some states–New York, for example, and Ohio-- arranged for voting in the field, and the overwhelming majority of these votes went to Lincoln. The most careful student of the subject concludes that “without the soldiers vote in six crucial states, Lincoln would have lost the election.”