Good morning, and thank you for joining me today. The purpose of this briefing is to discuss the Department’s robust efforts to protect the rights of military and overseas voters.
Leading up to next week’s election, the Department has devoted significant time and resources in recent months to enforce the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act (UOCAVA) and the Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment (MOVE) Act of 2009, in order to ensure that all military and overseas voters can access their right to vote and have their votes counted in the upcoming election.
Our efforts have directly benefited about 65,000 voters in 14 states where we have taken enforcement actions. This figure doesn’t capture the full benefit that our enforcement work has had in promoting compliance by other states across the country.
We are appreciative of the efforts of election officials around the country who have worked with us to devise reasonable solutions to ensure that military and overseas voters have their ballots counted in this election, and that we avoid these problems in future elections.
To give you some background, the MOVE Act was passed last year to amend UOCAVA, requiring states to transmit validly requested absentee ballots to UOCAVA voters no later than 45 days before a federal election. The Act allows states to request waivers if they believe that meeting the 45 day requirement will pose an undue hardship on the state, and the Department of Defense is responsible under the law for determining which states will be granted waivers. In August, the Department of Defense granted waivers to states where they determined there was an undue hardship to meet the 45 day requirement in the MOVE Act. Five states were granted waivers. Four states, the District of Columbia and the U.S. Virgin Islands submitted waiver requests but were denied.
Over the past several months, the Department of Justice has worked aggressively to ensure that all military and overseas voters, whether they are from a waiver state or not, have the opportunity to vote and have their vote counted in next week’s election. Our Voting Section has devoted more than 20 staff members to this nationwide compliance program. We are working with partners in U.S. Attorneys’ offices across the country to enable us to respond quickly when necessary.
The Justice Department’s pre-election enforcement of the MOVE Act is unprecedented and unmatched in any other election cycle with regard to any other voting statute, and the work continues as we speak.
As we have demonstrated in recent weeks, we are prepared to file suit against those jurisdictions that violate the MOVE act in order to achieve compliance.
To date, the department has filed five lawsuits against five jurisdictions, including Guam, Illinois, New Mexico, New York and Wisconsin.
- The New Mexico, New York, Wisconsin and Illinois lawsuits have been resolved by consent decree
- The Guam lawsuit went to trial, and the Department won a permanent injunction from the court granting the relief we requested
Our efforts continue to this very moment – this morning we participated in a hearing in Illinois, where the Illinois Republican party challenged our consent decree after it had already been approved by the court. That agreement remedied the violation and provided relief consistent with that provided in such agreements obtained by both Republican and Democratic administrations over the last two decades.
In addition, the Department has reached nine out-of-court agreements with: Alaska, Colorado, D.C., Hawaii, Kansas, Mississippi, Nevada, North Dakota and the Virgin Islands. All of the documents, both consent decrees and out of court settlements, are available on the Division’s website.
Because each state has different laws governing the administration of elections and counting ballots, each agreement is different. But generally, the agreements require relief such as:
- Express mail delivery of ballots,
- An extension to count ballots that are received after Election Day; and
- Notifying affected voters of any changes in the state’s process.
I would like to give you just a couple of detailed examples of these agreements.
- On October 12, we filed our lawsuit against New York. New York had received a waiver from the Department of Defense to allow it to send ballots later than 45 days before the election, as long as they were sent by October 1. However, more than 43,000 New York ballots were not sent by this deadline. The department’s lawsuit sought emergency relief to ensure that these ballots are sent and counted. The district court approved the consent decree and entered it as an order of the court on October 19. 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.
- Also on October 12, the department filed a lawsuit against New Mexico, and at the same time filed a consent decree that provides additional time for overseas voters whose ballots were mailed late to return those ballots and have them counted. (Election officials in six counties mailed ballots up to four days late; the settlement agreement provides that ballots sent by Election Day and received up to November 6, four days after election day, will be counted.) The district court approved the consent decree and entered it as an order of the court on October 14.
The department’s efforts are not over after Election Day. We will continue to work with state and local officials to ensure that every eligible vote from a UOCAVA voter is counted. If any state does not comply with the terms in their agreements, the Department has authority to sue under UOCAVA and will be prepared to do so. All of the agreements also explicitly require compliance in future federal elections.
All of these efforts demonstrate the department’s firm commitment to ensuring that our men and women serving overseas have the opportunity to vote and have their votes counted. I am happy to take any questions about our efforts.