Justice Department Reinforces Federal Protections for Servicemembers and their Spouses in Letter to State Officials
The Justice Department announced that it has reached an agreement with U.S. Virgin Islands officials to help ensure that military service members, their family members and U.S. citizens living overseas have the opportunity to participate fully in the territory’s Sept. 8, 2012 primary election and the Nov. 6, 2012, general election.
The agreement was filed Friday in the federal district court in St. Thomas, along with a complaint to enforce the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act (UOCAVA) . The suit alleges that the Virgin Islands failed to send absentee ballots to the territory’s eligible military and overseas voters for the primary election – and will fail to do so for the general election – in sufficient time for those voters to receive, cast and return their ballots. If approved by the court, the agreement will provide additional time for receipt of absentee ballots to ensure eligible military and overseas voters, who requested ballots, will have sufficient time to vote in the primary election. Under the agreement, the territory is required to express mail ballots to UOCAVA voters who requested ballots be sent to them by mail for the primary and general elections. UOCAVA voters in these federal elections will also be offered the opportunity to receive their ballots by email or fax, and the option of returning their ballots by express delivery, email or fax.
“This agreement reflects this department’s steadfast and continued commitment to ensure that members of our armed forces, their families and overseas citizens are offered a full and meaningful opportunity to vote in our nation’s elections,” said Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division. “I am most appreciative that election officials in the Virgin Islands worked cooperatively with the department and agreed to take actions to ensure the territory’s military and overseas voters will have a full opportunity to have their votes counted in the upcoming primary and general elections as well as in future federal elections.”
“The right to vote and have it count is a fundamental tenet of our democracy,” said Ronald W. Sharpe, U.S. Attorney for the District of the Virgin Islands. “This agreement ensures that Virgin Islands’ voters, including our brave women and men serving in the military, will have the opportunity to fully participate in the upcoming primary election and future federal elections.”
UOCAVA requires states, including the territory of the Virgin Islands, to allow uniformed service voters (those 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 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 will commit the Virgin Islands to report back to the United States about the number of UOCAVA ballots received and counted for the 2012 federal election cycle. In addition, the agreement requires the Virgin Islands to take steps to ensure compliance with UOCAVA in future federal elections and provide reports to the United States 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.