Justice Department Reached Agreements to Protect Rights of Military and Overseas Voters from New York, Kansas and Mississippi
WASHINGTON - The Justice Department today announced that it has reached agreements with New York, Kansas and Mississippi officials to help ensure that military service members and other U.S. citizens living overseas have an opportunity to participate fully in the Nov. 2, 2010, federal general election. The agreements were necessary to ensure compliance with the 2009 Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment Act (MOVE Act).
“The MOVE Act provides critical protections to ensure that members of the uniformed services, their families and other citizens living overseas are able to exercise their right to vote and know their votes will be counted. The Justice Department is committed to vigorously enforcing the MOVE Act to protect the rights of all Americans to vote in the upcoming elections,” said Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division. “I am pleased that officials in these states have worked with the Department to reach these agreements, which will ensure military and overseas voters will have their votes counted.”
The Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act (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 MOVE Act, which made broad amendments to UOCAVA. Among those changes was a requirement 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 45th day before the Nov. 2, 2010, federal general election fell on Sept.18, 2010.
Pursuant to UOCAVA, the State of New York sought a waiver from the Department of Defense of the requirement to transmit ballots by the 45th day before the Nov. 2 federal general election on grounds that New York’s Sept. 14, 2010, primary election prohibited the State from complying with the requirement. The State’s waiver application included a comprehensive plan that outlined the steps the State would take to ensure that UOCAVA voters had time to receive, mark, and submit their ballots in time to have the ballot counted. New York’s comprehensive plan relied on two key provisions that together created a 45-day period for UOCAVA voters to receive, mark, and submit their ballots: (1) the transmission of absentee ballots to UOCAVA voters on Oct. 1, 2010, 32 days before the Nov. 2, 2010, Federal general election, and (2) the deadline of Nov. 15, 2010, 13 days after the election, for receipt of ballots from UOCAVA voters postmarked by Nov. 1, 2010. On Aug. 27, 2010, pursuant to its statutory authority, and based on the comprehensive plan set forth in New York’s waiver application, the Department of Defense granted the State’s request for a hardship exemption. In its determination letter, the Department of Defense noted the waiver was based “on an understanding that the State of New York will transmit absentee ballots for the November 2, 2010 Federal general election to UOCAVA voters no later than October 1, 2010.” Despite the Oct. 1, 2010 deadline outlined in the comprehensive plan set forth in New York’s waiver application, election officials in New York State nonetheless failed to transmit absentee ballots for the Federal general election to UOCAVA voters by that date in at least thirteen New York counties. These thirteen counties include the five counties in New York City (New York, Kings, Queens, Bronx and Richmond Counties) and eight other counties around the State (Erie, Niagara, Putnam, Westchester, Onondaga, Albany, Nassau, and Wayne Counties).
On Oct. 12, 2010, the department filed suit against the State of New York and the New York State Board of Elections, and today the department, the State and the State Board of Elections signed a consent decree that they have submitted to the federal court in Albany for its approval. The consent decree provides for a statewide extension of the ballot receipt deadline for UOCAVA voters until Nov. 24, 2010, for ballots executed and postmarked by Nov. 1, 2010. The consent decree provides that election officials shall make efforts to notify UOCAVA voters of the agreement and of the option to receive ballots electronically through the state’s online ballot delivery wizard. The decree also provides for the state to file reports on the number of UOCAVA ballots sent, received and counted and on efforts by the state to adopt measures to ensure that these UOCAVA violations do not recur in future federal elections.
Kansas state officials informed the department that seven of its counties failed to send ballots by the Sept. 18, 2010, deadline: Marshall, Finney, Jackson, Hamilton, Wabaunsee Ellis and Stevens Counties. Under the agreement, the state will take actions to ensure that counties provide at least 45 days for the transmission, execution and return of ballots to all qualified UOCAVA voters who requested absentee ballots on or before Sept. 18, 2010, and will extend the receipt deadlines in those counties as commensurate with the delay in each of those counties in sending ballots. In addition, Kansas officials will notify UOCAVA voters about the agreement, explaining the extended deadline and providing appropriate contact information for voters needing assistance. The state will also file a report with the court concerning the number of UOCAVA ballots received and counted, and will take actions to ensure compliance with the law in future elections.
Following inquiries from the department, Mississippi state officials reported that the ballots for UOCAVA voters from 22 counties who had requested ballots on or before Sept. 18, 2010, were not sent at least 45 days before the federal general election: Adams, Alcorn, Attala, Clay, Coahoma, Covington, Forrest, Hinds, Jasper, Jones, Lafayette, Lamar, Montgomery, Neshoba, Perry, Pontotoc, Tishomingo, Union, Warren, Washington, Webster, and Yazoo. Under the agreement, Mississippi will extend the deadline for the receipt of ballots from military and overseas voters -- ballots from eligible voters who requested ballots by Sept. 18, 2010, that are executed and sent by Nov. 2, 2010, and received by 7:00 p.m. on Nov. 8, 2010, will be counted. Mississippi also will notify voters of the extension, provide a post-election report, and take steps to ensure compliance with the law in future elections.
The department previously reached agreements with Alaska, Colorado, the District of Columbia, Hawaii, Nevada, North Dakota, and the U.S. Virgin Islands; and filed lawsuits against New Mexico, New York, Wisconsin and Guam seeking relief to help ensure that military service members and other U.S. citizens living overseas have the opportunity to participate fully in the upcoming election. 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.