WASHINGTON – The Justice Department today announced that it has reached an agreement with Virginia officials to help ensure that military service members and U.S. citizens living overseas have an opportunity to participate fully in future federal general elections.
The agreement, which was filed in federal court and concludes extensive litigation that began in November of 2008, provides for training, monitoring, reporting and backup procedures in the commonwealth to ensure that absentee ballots are transmitted to eligible military and overseas voters no later than 45 days before a federal election, the deadline required by amendments to federal law made by the 2009 Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment Act.
Under the agreement, Virginia will begin monitoring local election official progress in preparing to transmit absentee ballots to military and overseas voters prior to the 45-day mailing deadline, and will identify and work to prevent late mailings. Commonwealth officials will also monitor local election official progress in transmitting these ballots, and will report this information to the department. Further, the commonwealth will conduct procedural audits of local election offices that transmitted ballots late in prior general federal elections, to identify the source of their delays and correct it through appropriately-tailored training.
The lawsuit was brought under the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act of 1986 (UOCAVA). UOCAVA requires states to allow uniformed services voters (serving both overseas and within the United States) and overseas citizens to register to vote and to vote absentee for all elections for federal office. A federal court in Richmond, Va., ruled in October 2009 that Virginia’s late mailing of ballots in the 2008 general election violated UOCAVA, and ordered the parties to negotiate an appropriate permanent remedy to that violation. Those negotiations resulted in today’s filing, which still must be approved by the federal district court in Richmond.
"The Justice Department is committed to vigorous enforcement of UOCAVA so that members of the uniformed services, their families, and other citizens living overseas are able to exercise their right to vote and be confident their votes will be counted," said Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division. "I am pleased that officials in Virginia worked cooperatively with the department at this critical stage to help ensure that the commonwealth’s military and overseas voters can participate fully in future federal elections."
More information about UOCAVA and other federal voting laws is available on the Department of Justice website at www.usdoj.gov/crt/voting/misc/activ_uoc.htm. Complaints may be reported to the Voting Section of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division at 1-800-253-3931.