WASHINGTON - The Justice Department today announced the successful resolution of its lawsuit against the state of Alabama to enforce the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act (UOCAVA).
The lawsuit, filed on March 9, 2006, contended that the three-week period between Alabama’s primary and second primary elections was too short for run-off ballots to be created, mailed, and returned from absentee voters living in distant places such as American servicemembers in Iraq. In response to the lawsuit, the Alabama General Assembly enacted legislation that extends the period between the primary and run-off elections to five weeks, and allows ballots cast by military and overseas voters to be counted if they are received within seven days after the election. A new state law will help ensure that military and overseas voters have an opportunity to participate fully in the state's primary run-off elections for federal office, as required by UOCAVA. The reforms in Alabama follow similar actions in North Carolina and South Carolina in 2006 in which the Civil Rights Division pressed to obtain full UOCAVA compliance in advance of the 2006 federal primary elections.
“We are pleased to see a demonstrated commitment by the Alabama, North Carolina and South Carolina officials 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 for the Civil Rights Division. “These measures provide a permanent solution to the difficulties created by their previous run-off schedules, and resolve our concerns about the rights of military and overseas voters to have their ballots counted in all future primary run-off elections.”
The Governor promptly signed the bill into law, but an unanticipated consequence of the extension of the run-off date was a change in absentee voting requirements: absentee voters would now have to file separate requests for primary and run-off absentee ballots. With little time for effective publicity and the absentee voting process under way, this change could have affected numerous voters. Moreover, because data provided by the state of Alabama suggests that African American voters use absentee ballots at a higher rate than other voters, this change could have had particular implications for African American voters. The Justice Department obtained an Order suspending the dual-request provision until 2008, and the state agreed, among other steps, to provide each 2008 applicant with two applications and a prominent notice of the need for two separate applications. Having resolved the potential impact of the change, the Justice Department determined that the change satisfied the Voting Rights Act and moved for dismissal of its complaint.
Alabama is the third state to adopt new UOCAVA procedures in response to Department action. South Carolina also recently adopted emergency remedial legislation to remedy a similar violation of UOCAVA to ensure its military and overseas voters would not be disenfranchised in its second primary elections, and North Carolina entered into a voluntary agreement with the Civil Rights Division on an emergency plan to address compliance issues there for the 2006 primary elections.
The Justice Department has brought numerous suits under the UOCAVA to ensure that overseas 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 address several UOCAVA problems, including a similarly truncated primary election schedule, and last year Georgia adopted legislation to ensure long-term UOCAVA compliance and resolve the lawsuit. Pennsylvania also has recently adopted remedial legislation in response to a 2004 lawsuit, and continuing enforcement by the Civil Rights Division.
More information about UOCAVA and other federal voting laws is available on the Justice Department Web site, 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.