WASHINGTON, D.C. - The Justice Department today announced that it has reached an agreement with North Carolina officials that will help ensure that military and overseas voters have an opportunity to participate fully in the State’s 2006 second primary election, if one becomes necessary. The agreement, which was filed contemporaneously with a lawsuit filed by the Civil Rights Division, creates emergency procedures for this year’s elections to allow military and overseas voters sufficient time to receive, cast and return their ballots and to have their ballots counted.
“We are gratified by the commitment of the North Carolina Board of Elections and its Executive Director, Gary Bartlett, to assure that military members and overseas voters have a meaningful opportunity to participate in the State’s second primary elections,” said Wan J. Kim, Assistant Attorney General of the Civil Rights Division. “These measures provide an immediate solution while the Legislature adopts permanent procedures, as we trust they will promptly.”
The lawsuit was necessary because the four week period between North Carolina’s primary election and any necessary second primary (i.e., runoff) is too short for runoff ballots to be created, mailed to, and returned from absentee voters, including many who are in distant places such as members of our Armed Forces serving in Iraq.
United States Attorney Frank D. Whitney added, "We must do everything in our power to ensure that the men and women of our military fighting and working to protect our freedom, and other American citizens overseas, are afforded every opportunity to participate in our election process. This agreement reflects the Justice Department's commitment to that goal and sets us on a course to permanently address this problem in North Carolina."
The agreement, which must be approved by the federal district court in Raleigh, provides for the following: (1) all military and overseas voters requesting an absentee ballot for the primary election will be mailed a blank write-in ballot to be used, if needed, in the runoff election; (2) if needed, the state and applicable counties will provide internet notice and media publicity of any runoffs; (3) revised procedures, if needed, to expedite return of write-in ballots via facsimile and email transmission; and (4) extra time for the receipt and counting of these ballots in the case of any runoff. The agreement also provides for reporting to the Court on the status of the North Carolina legislature’s efforts to adopt a permanent solution to the problem arising from the election schedule.
The lawsuit was brought under the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act (UOCAVA), which requires states to allow uniformed services voters and other overseas citizens to register to vote and vote absentee for all elections for federal office. The Justice Department has brought numerous suits under the UOCAVA to ensure that voters are not deprived of an opportunity to vote due to late mailing of absentee ballots by election officials. The Department recently filed a suit against Alabama to remedy a similar problem with its primary run-off timetable. In 2004, the Department obtained emergency orders in Pennsylvania and Georgia to remedy late mailing problems, and last year Georgia adopted legislation to ensure long-term UOCAVA compliance and resolve the lawsuit.
More information about the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act and other federal voting laws is available on the Department of Justice website, http://www.usdoj.gov. Complaints about discriminatory voting practices may be called in to the Voting Section of the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division at 1-800-253-3931.