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Justice Department Reaches Agreement to Protect Rights of Military and Overseas Voters in Tennessee Presidential Primary Elections

WASHINGTON – The Justice Department today announced that it has reached an agreement with Tennessee officials to help ensure that military servicemembers and other U.S. citizens living overseas have an opportunity to participate fully in the state’s Feb. 5, 2008, federal primary election.

The agreement, which was filed at the same time as a lawsuit by the Civil Rights Division, creates emergency procedures for next week’s presidential primary election to ensure eligible military and overseas voters have sufficient time to cast and return their ballots and to have their ballots counted.

“Soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines, and other overseas citizens deserve the opportunity to participate in elections of our nation’s leaders,” said Grace Chung Becker, Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division. “I am pleased that state officials in Tennessee have worked so cooperatively with the Department and agreed to measures that will allow the votes of servicemembers and citizens abroad to count in the upcoming primary.”

The lawsuit was necessary after many counties in the state failed to mail requested absentee ballots to Tennessee’s military and other citizens living abroad in sufficient time for them to vote in the federal primary election. The availability of ballots was delayed by difficulties stemming from the state’s decision to move the primary date to Feb. 5.

The agreement, which was approved by the federal district court in Nashville today, provides extra time – until Feb. 15 – for the receipt of overseas ballots and allows eligible military and overseas voters who did not receive an absentee ballot to download and return a federal write-in absentee ballot.

The lawsuit was brought under the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act (UOCAVA), which requires states to allow uniformed servicemembers 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.

In 2006, the Department resolved by agreement a UOCAVA suit against Connecticut to ensure protected voters could vote in the 2006 federal primary elections. That same year, the Department also remedied structural problems with the primary run-off timetables in Alabama, North Carolina and South Carolina that interfered with the ability of UOCAVA voters to participate in those federal elections. In addition, the Department obtained emergency orders in Pennsylvania and Georgia in 2004 to remedy similar late mailing problems. Both states have since adopted remedial legislation to ensure long-term UOCAVA compliance and resolve the lawsuits.

More information about the UOCAVA and other federal voting laws is available on the Department of Justice web site at Complaints about discriminatory voting practices may be reported to the Voting Section of the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division at 1-800-253-3931.