Yesterday, the Department of Justice filed a Statement of Interest in the Supreme Judicial Court in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts to help ensure that uniformed service members serving their country away from home, their family members absent with them, and American citizens living overseas have the opportunity to participate fully in Massachusetts’s 2020 federal general election. The brief is part of the Department of Justice’s continued efforts to enforce the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act (UOCAVA).
“Our filing reflects the Justice Department’s unwavering commitment to ensuring that military and overseas voters are afforded a meaningful opportunity to participate in federal elections,” said Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband for the Civil Rights Division. “We will continue to ensure that the ability of our brave men and women serving in the military and our citizens residing overseas to participate fully in all federal elections is not infringed.”
“We are committed to protecting the rights of Massachusetts men and women serving our country and our citizens living overseas, including ensuring that their votes are counted and so their voices heard,” said Andrew E. Lelling, U.S. Attorney for the District of Massachusetts.
The lawsuit in question, filed by private plaintiffs, involves a challenge to the absentee ballot receipt deadline for Massachusetts’s upcoming federal primary election on Sept. 1. The plaintiffs have asked the court to extend the ballot receipt deadline until Sept. 11.
The department’s brief explains that UOCAVA requires states to transmit absentee ballots to military and overseas voters who have requested them at least 45 days before any federal election. Massachusetts needs sufficient time after the Sept. 1, primary election to certify and finalize the ballots so that the local election clerks will be able to send the military and overseas absentee ballots by Sept. 19, which is UOCAVA’s 45-day deadline for the Nov. 3, federal general election. The brief does not take a position on whether the court should adjust the ballot receipt deadline, nor does it take a position on the merits of plaintiffs’ claims. But the brief notes that any adjustment to the ballot receipt deadline should allow Massachusetts time to comply with UOCAVA to avoid the real possibility of disenfranchising military and overseas voters for the Nov. 3, 2020 election.
UOCAVA requires states to allow uniformed service voters serving away from home (those serving both overseas and within the United States) and their families who are absent with them, and American citizens residing overseas, to register to vote and to vote absentee for all elections for federal office. In 2009, Congress enacted the MOVE Act, which made significant amendments to UOCAVA. Among those changes was a requirement that states transmit absentee ballots to UOCAVA voters who have timely requested ballots, by mail or electronically at the voter’s option, no later than 45 days before federal 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/voting-section. Complaints about possible violations of the federal voting rights laws may be reported to the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division at 1-800-253-3931.