Federal Court Approves Justice Department Agreement to Protect the Rights of Military and Overseas Voters in Illinois
The Justice Department announced today that the federal court in Chicago has approved an agreement between the department and Illinois officials to help ensure that military service members, their family members and U.S. citizens living overseas have an opportunity to participate fully in the upcoming special primary election and special election to fill a vacated seat in the state’s 18th Congressional District. The agreement is necessary to ensure Illinois’ compliance with the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act (UOCAVA).
The agreement, filed simultaneously with the complaint on April 6, 2015, requires that the state adopt an election calendar which enables local jurisdictions to transmit ballots to UOCAVA voters at least 45 days before the upcoming special elections as the federal law requires. The agreement establishes July 7, 2015, as the date for the special primary election and Sept. 10, 2015, as the date for the special election. These dates were selected to allow the election authorities sufficient time to complete all the pre-election steps necessary to timely transmit ballots to UOCAVA voters as required by the federal law. The agreement also requires that the state take measures to notify UOCAVA voters of the election dates and relevant deadlines.
“This agreement with Illinois reflects our continued commitment to ensure that members of our armed forces, their families and overseas U.S. citizens are offered a full and meaningful opportunity to vote in all federal elections, including the upcoming special elections for United States Representative from Illinois’ 18th Congressional District, and all future special elections,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta of the Civil Rights Division. “The Department of Justice will always work to ensure U.S. citizens can exercise their right to vote.”
UOCAVA requires states to allow uniformed service voters, serving both overseas and within the United States, and their families and U.S. citizens overseas 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 amended UOCAVA to require that states 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 complaint and agreement were necessary because Illinois law mandates a truncated election schedule for holding special elections to fill vacancies for U.S. Representative that prevents Illinois from ensuring transmittal of ballots to UOCAVA voters at least 45 days before the special primary election and the subsequent special election. Under the terms of the agreement, Illinois is also required to take the necessary action to ensure that UOCAVA voters have a fair and reasonable opportunity to participate in future federal special elections for U.S. Representatives in Congress, including pursuing permanent changes to Illinois law governing the state’s special election calendar that will permit compliance with UOCAVA’s ballot transmission requirements. The agreement also requires that Illinois provide detailed reports to the department concerning the transmission of ballots for the scheduled special elections in the 18th Congressional District.
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. Please report any complaints to the Civil Rights Division’s Voting Section at 1-800-253-3931.