WASHINGTON - The Justice Department today announced that it has reached an agreement with Pennsylvania officials to help ensure that military and overseas voters have an opportunity to participate fully in the state’s federal elections. The agreement resolves a lawsuit filed by the Civil Rights Division in 2004 to enforce the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act (UOCAVA).
“I am pleased to see that state officials in Pennsylvania have made a commitment to giving military members and overseas voters a meaningful opportunity to participate in the State’s elections,” said Wan J. Kim, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division. “During a time when so many of our nation's men and women are in harm's way while serving their country, it is critical that we vigorously enforce the right of all our citizens overseas to participate in this most fundamental aspect of our democratic process.” The Justice Department filed a lawsuit in 2004 lawsuit after certain county election officials failed to mail out requested absentee ballots to Pennsylvania citizens living overseas in sufficient time for them to vote in that year’s April 27 federal primary election. After an emergency hearing by a federal judge in Harrisburg, the Department obtained relief requiring Pennsylvania election officials to take steps to ensure qualified overseas voters a reasonable opportunity to participate in the election.
The Justice Department agreed that the case now could be dismissed in light of remedial legislation enacted by the commonwealth and signed into law by Governor Rendell on May 12, 2006. The new law provides that ballots cast by UOCAVA voters will be accepted if they are received no later than the seventh day after the election and postmarked by the day before the election. Under the terms of the agreement filed today, which must be approved by the federal district court in Harrisburg, the commonwealth also will monitor and report on the timeliness of the counties’ absentee ballot mailings through the 2008 federal general elections. If during that time counties fail to timely mail ballots to military and overseas voters, the Department of Justice can return to the court to seek a further order to ensure voters are not disenfranchised.
The UOCAVA 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 UOCAVA to ensure that voters are not deprived of an opportunity to vote due to late mailing of absentee ballots by election officials. In 2004, the Department obtained an emergency order in Georgia to remedy late mailing problems, and last year Georgia adopted legislation to ensure long-term UOCAVA compliance and resolve the lawsuit. The Department also recently remedied structural problems with the primary run-off timetables in Alabama, North Carolina and South Carolina. After suit was filed, North Carolina entered into a voluntary agreement with the Civil Rights Division on an emergency plan to address the issue for the 2006 primary elections, and Alabama and South Carolina adopted remedial legislation to resolve these UOCAVA violations.
More information about the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act and other federal voting laws is available on the Department of Justice website at 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.