Justice Department Reaches Agreement to Protect Rights of Military and Overseas Voters in Wisconsin
WASHINGTON – The Justice Department today announced that it has reached an agreement with Wisconsin officials to help ensure that military service members and U.S. citizens living overseas have an opportunity to participate fully in the Nov. 2, 2010, federal general election.
The agreement, which was filed at the same time as a lawsuit by the Civil Rights Division, provides additional time – until Nov. 19, 2010 – for receipt of absentee ballots to ensure eligible military and overseas voters have sufficient time to cast and return their votes and to have them counted. The agreement also requires Wisconsin officials to take certain steps to ensure that all local election offices in the state send absentee ballots to military and overseas voters by no later than Oct. 1, 2010, by the means requested by the voter: i.e., by mail, email or fax.
Under the agreement, Wisconsin will provide a 49-day window for military and overseas voters to receive, mark and submit their ballots to ensure sufficient time to have their ballots counted. To accomplish this, the agreement requires Wisconsin to both accelerate the date by which they will send ballots out to military and overseas voters to Oct. 1, 2010, and to add additional time -- until Nov. 19, 2010 -- for receipt of their absentee ballots. Absent the agreement, military and overseas voters would have had much less time to receive and return their ballots.
The lawsuit was brought under the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act of 1986 (UOCAVA), as amended by the Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment Act of 2009 (MOVE Act). UOCAVA requires states to allow uniformed services 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.
“The department is fully committed to vigorously enforcing the MOVE Act, which is designed to remove barriers and give members of the uniformed services, their families and our citizens living overseas the opportunity for full participation 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 Wisconsin’s officials have worked cooperatively with the department and have agreed to measures that will afford immediate relief to ensure that 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 agreement, which still must be approved by the federal district court in Madison, Wis., resolved the department’s claims regarding compliance with UOCAVA in the Nov. 2, 2010, election. The agreement also commits the state to take steps to ensure compliance with UOCAVA in future federal elections and provide a report to the Department of Justice on those efforts.
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.
Wisconsin sought a hardship waiver on grounds that its Sept. 14, 2010, primary date prohibited it from complying with the 45-day deadline specified by the MOVE Act. On Aug. 27, 2010, the Department of Defense denied Wisconsin’s request for a waiver, finding that under the MOVE Act 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 Wisconsin officials that the department had authorized litigation to enforce UOCAVA. Discussions with the state were initiated to resolve the matter, which led to the agreement filed today.
More information about 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.