The Justice Department today announced an agreement between the department and the state of Ohio through its Secretary of State 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 May 3, 2022, federal primary election. The agreement is necessary to provide a remedy for a potential violation of the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act (UOCAVA).
The agreement provides additional time for election officials in Ohio to receive and count absentee ballots from eligible UOCAVA voters, in order to ensure that such voters will have sufficient time to receive and submit their absentee ballots for the May 3, 2022, primary election. Under the agreement, UOCAVA ballots sent back will be accepted for an additional 10 days – until May 23 – so long as they are executed and sent by the close of the polls on May 3, and otherwise valid. The agreement also provides extended time for UOCAVA voters to vote, sign and transmit completed ballots through the close of polls on the election day for the May 3 election. The agreement also requires that election officials transmit ballots to UOCAVA voters by expedited means no later than April 5, 2022. The agreement provides that elections officials will send voters their ballots by email if requested by the voter, or by a form of express mail or other express delivery service if the voter requested that the ballot be sent by mail. The agreement also provides that the state will provide a means for voters to have expedited delivery for their voted ballots when returned to the county election boards, at the state’s expense. Under the terms of today’s agreement, Ohio will also provide notice of the remedial measures to the affected voters and reports to the department concerning the transmission and receipt of the UOCAVA ballots for the May 3 primary election.
“This agreement reflects the Justice Department’s deep commitment to protecting the right to vote for members of our armed forces deployed around the world, their families, and U.S. citizens overseas, and ensuring that these voters are afforded a meaningful opportunity to vote in all federal elections,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke for the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “I commend Ohio state officials, who worked with the department to achieve a resolution that will safeguard voting rights for the state’s military and overseas voters in the upcoming primary election.”
UOCAVA requires states to allow uniformed service voters, serving both overseas and within the United States, and their families, and U.S. citizens residing overseas to register to vote and to vote absentee for all elections for federal office. States are required to transmit absentee ballots to these voters, by mail or electronically at the voter’s option, no later than 45 days before each federal election.
The Supreme Court of Ohio required the post-decennial census districts for the Ohio General Assembly and Representative to Congress to be redrawn, and thus the districts for these offices were established much closer to the May 3, 2022, primary election than expected. In light of the delay in the ability to have ballots prepared due to the litigation, Ohio requested from the Department of Defense a hardship exemption, from UOCAVA’s 45-day advance transmission requirement for the May 3, 2022, primary election. On March 4, 2022, the application for a waiver was denied by the Department of Defense because Ohio’s original plan for sending UOCAVA ballots did not provide sufficient time for UOCAVA voters to receive, mark and return their ballots in time to have their votes counted.
Immediately following denial of the waiver by the Department of Defense, the Justice Department worked with Ohio officials to devise measures to remedy the anticipated UOCAVA violation. To implement the agreement on remedies reached with the department, Ohio enacted emergency legislation and the Secretary of State issued a directive to the county boards of elections.
More information about UOCAVA and other federal voting rights laws is available on the Department of Justice website at https://www.justice.gov/crt/uniformed-and-overseas-citizens-absentee-voting-act. Please report any complaints to the Civil Rights Division at 1-800-253-3931.