WASHINGTON – The Justice Department announced that a federal district court in Richmond, Va., ruled yesterday that Virginia violated the voting rights of American military personnel and other overseas citizens by failing to mail absentee ballots in sufficient time for them to be counted in the Nov. 4, 2008, general election.
Ruling in a 2008 lawsuit by the Justice Department, U.S. District Court Judge Richard L. Williams declared that Virginia’s failure to mail more than 2,000 absentee ballots at least 30 days prior to the election violated the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act (UOCAVA), a federal law that guarantees military personnel and other citizens living abroad the right to vote by absentee ballot in federal elections.
Judge Williams wrote in his ruling: "The right to vote means a right to cast a ballot that will be counted." As a result, the court held that Virginia’s failure to mail absentee ballots to its military and overseas voters sufficiently in advance of the election "offended these voters’ prized right to vote in a federal election[.]"
To remedy this violation of federal law, the Court ordered the Commonwealth to count all otherwise proper ballots received by the Commonwealth within 30 days after the election. The case will remain open for a determination of what relief is needed to ensure that Virginia complies with UOCAVA in future federal elections.
"The men and women who bravely put their lives on the line to serve their nation deserve, at the very least, to know that their votes will be counted, and their voices will be heard," said Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division. "I am gratified the Court acted so decisively to uphold the right of those serving our country in uniform and other citizens living abroad to vote, and I applaud the attorneys and staff in the Voting Section for their hard work on this case to protect that right."
UOCAVA requires states to allow uniformed service members and overseas citizens to register to vote and to 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.
More information about UOCAVA and other federal voting laws is available on the Department of Justice Web site at http://www.justice.gov/crt/voting/misc/activ_uoc.htm. Complaints about discriminatory voting practices may be reported to the Voting Section of the Civil Rights Division at 1-800-253-3931.