Justice Department Announces Agreement to Protect Rights of Military and Overseas Voters in California
WASHINGTON – The Justice Department announced today that it has reached an agreement with California state officials to help ensure that military servicemembers, their family members and U.S. citizens living overseas have the opportunity to participate fully in California’s June 5, 2012, federal primary election.
The agreement was filed at the same time as a lawsuit brought under the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act (UOCAVA). The Justice Department filed suit in response to the state’s failure to send absentee ballots to thousands of California’s eligible military and overseas voters for the June 5, 2012, federal primary election at least 45 days prior to the election, as required by UOCAVA. The complaint also alleges that the state failed to ensure that ballots were sent by the voters’ preferred method of transmission (by mail or electronically), as required by federal law.
The agreement between the Justice Department and the California Secretary of State provides remedial options to afford affected military and overseas voters sufficient opportunity to receive, cast and return their ballots in time to be counted. Under the agreement, affected voters will be notified of their options to receive and return their ballots by electronic or other expedited methods, and they will be offered the option of returning their ballots by express delivery at no cost to the voter. The agreement recognizes the steps some counties already took to utilize express delivery for ballots that were not sent at least 45 days prior to the election.
“Members of our armed forces, their families and overseas citizens are entitled to a complete and meaningful opportunity to vote, and the Justice Department is committed to seeking full access to the ballot box for all voters – regardless of where they are on Election Day,” said Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division. “The California Secretary of State worked cooperatively with the department and agreed to implement measures that will ensure California’s military and overseas voters will have the opportunity to fully participate in June’s primary election and future federal elections.”
“Our fine men and women in uniform make tremendous sacrifices serving our nation every day,” said Benjamin B. Wagner, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of California. “This agreement ensures that military voters, as well as U.S. citizens who are overseas, need not sacrifice their right to vote.”
UOCAVA requires states to allow uniformed service voters (serving both overseas and within the United States) and their families and overseas citizens to register to vote and to vote absentee for all elections for federal office. In 2009, Congress enacted the Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment (MOVE) Act, which made broad amendments to UOCAVA. Among those changes was a requirement that states must transmit absentee ballots to voters covered under UOCAVA, by mail or electronically at the voter’s option, no later than 45 days before federal elections.
The agreement, which must be approved by the U.S. District Court in Sacramento, Calif., also commits the California Secretary of State to closely monitor and certify California counties’ transmission of UOCAVA ballots, conduct training of county election officials before the 2012 general election, provide assistance to its counties when necessary, and report back to the United States about its UOCAVA compliance for the 2012 federal general election and the 2014 federal election cycle. In addition, the agreement requires the California Secretary of State to take additional steps to ensure full compliance with UOCAVA in future federal elections, including investigating the cause of the late mailed ballots and then taking the actions necessary to prevent future violations. The California Secretary of State must provide status reports to the Department of Justice on those efforts.
More information about UOCAVA and other federal voting laws is available on the Department of Justice website at www.justice.gov/crt/about/vot/misc/activ_uoc.php. Complaints may be reported to the Voting Section of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division at 1-800-253-3931.