Justice Department Reaches Agreement to Protect Rights of Military and Overseas Voters in Alaska
WASHINGTON – The Justice Department today announced that it has reached an agreement with Alaska 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 agreement was necessary to ensure Alaska’s compliance with the 2009 Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment Act (MOVE Act).
The agreement provides Alaska will expedite the candidate certification procedures for its Aug. 24, 2010, primary election so that it is able to send out an official absentee ballot to all military service members and other U.S. citizens living overseas no later than Sept. 18, 2010. This date for mailing, or faxing if the voter requests, the official ballot is 45 days in advance of the federal general election, thus ensuring that eligible military and overseas voters have sufficient time to receive, cast and return their ballots and to have their votes counted.
"Our uniformed service members and other overseas citizens deserve a meaningful opportunity to participate in the elections of our nation’s leaders," said Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division. "I am extremely pleased that Alaska’s officials worked quickly and cooperatively with the department and agreed to measures that will ensure the state’s military and overseas voters, many of whom are members of our armed forces and their families bravely serving our country around the world, will have the opportunity to have their votes counted in the upcoming election."
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 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 no later than 45 days before federal elections. Under the new law, states can apply to the Department of Defense for a hardship waiver of this requirement for a particular Federal election if the state’s primary election date prohibited it from sending ballots by the 45th day before the election; if a legal contest causes a delay in generating ballots; or if the state’ s constitution prohibits compliance. To obtain a waiver, states must 1) establish that one or more of these circumstances creates an undue hardship, and 2) present a comprehensive plan that provides UOCAVA voters sufficient time to receive and submit marked absentee ballots in time to have them counted in that election. Waiver determinations are made by the Department of Defense, after consulting with the Department of Justice.
Alaska sought a hardship waiver on grounds that its Aug, 24, 2010, primary election date prohibited it from complying with the 45-day deadline specified by the MOVE Act. On Aug. 27, 2010, the Department of Defense denied Alaska’s request, finding that although the state had shown an undue hardship for the Nov. 2, 2010 election, its proposed comprehensive plan did not afford sufficient time for UOCAVA voters to receive and submit absentee ballots in time to have them counted. Immediately following denial of the waiver application, the Department of Justice advised Alaska officials that the Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights had authorized litigation to enforce UOCAVA. Discussions with the state were initiated to resolve the matter, which led to the agreement announced today.
More information about the UOCAVA and other federal voting laws is available on the Department of Justice web site 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.