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Wednesday, November 19, 2008
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Justice Department Sues Alabama for Failure to Protect Voting Rights of Overseas Citizens

WASHINGTON - The Justice Department today filed a lawsuit against the State of Alabama and Alabama Secretary of State Beth Chapman, alleging their failure to protect the rights of overseas voters in violation of the Uniformed Overseas Citizen Absentee Voting Act (UOCAVA).

UOCAVA is designed to ensure that uniformed military members and overseas citizens may effectively participate in federal elections. The State of Alabama, through its Secretary of State, is responsible for collecting and reporting the number of military voters and overseas citizens who are sent ballots, who return ballots, and who have their ballots successfully cast in each federal general election. Alabama has failed to fulfill this important legal obligation since UOCAVA was enacted in 2002. The complaint filed in the U.S. District Court in Montgomery, Ala., seeks a declaration that the State, through its Secretary of State, has previously violated the law, and seeks compliance regarding the reporting of data from the Nov. 4, 2008 election and future federal general elections.

"Ensuring that our uniformed servicemembers and overseas citizens are being given an effective opportunity to have their votes counted is critical to our democracy," said Grace Chung Becker, Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division. "States must be held accountable for ensuring that absentee ballots are sent out in a timely fashion."

The Election Assistance Commission (EAC) publishes a report every two years and provides data for every state and jurisdiction in the country about how many absentee ballots were transmitted to UOCAVA voters, how many were returned and how many were cast in federal general elections. UOCAVA specifically mandates that state and local governments report to the EAC "not later than 90 days after the date of each regularly scheduled general election for Federal office" the "combined number of absentee ballots that are transmitted to absent uniformed services voters and overseas voters for the election and the combined number of such ballots which were returned by such voters and cast in the election." Further, the States must make such a report available to the general public. Alabama has never submitted the reports required by this law.

The Justice Department has the authority under UOCAVA to bring an action to enforce compliance by the states. The Department recently reached a settlement agreement with the Commonwealth of Massachusetts requiring its Secretary of State to implement procedures to facilitate the collection and reporting of data regarding absentee ballots transmitted, returned and cast by overseas citizens, including members of the armed forces. The Department also has a similar lawsuit pending against the State of Vermont.

The Civil Rights Division enforces UOCAVA and other federal voting statutes. To file complaints about discriminatory voting practices, voters may call the Voting Section of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division at 1-800-253-3931. More information about the Voting Rights Act and other federal voting laws is available on the Department of Justice Web site at