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Justice Department agreement extends time to count military ballots in six Illinois counties

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The Justice Department on Friday announced an agreement with State of Illinois election officials allowing more time for ballots from military and overseas voters to be counted in six counties where ballots were sent out late.

The agreement, which must be approved by a federal judge, comes in the wake of 35 of the 110 election jurisdictions in Illinois not meeting the Sept. 18 deadline for sending out ballots. A survey by the Illinois Board of Elections--cited by the Justice Department--found 29 jurisdictions sent out ballots between two and 12 days late; three 16 days late; two 17 days late and one was tardy by 20 days.

The agreement covers the six election jurisdictions sending out ballots more than 16 days late. While other ballots in Illinois have to be counted by Nov. 16, authorities in Boone, Jersey and St. Clair Counties have until Nov. 18 and officials in Hancock, Schuyler and Massac Counties have until Nov. 19.

Ballots from those counties get an extra day to be postmarked --from Nov. 1 to Nov. 2.

Republicans at the top of the Illinois ticket--Senate candidate Mark Kirk and governor nominee Bill Brady--seized on the issue last week, calling for an investigation into why ballots were sent out late.

The agreement to be presented to a judge calls for state officials to "take steps to investigate the cause of the late mailing of ballots and failure to transmit ballots electronically and to ensure compliance in future federal elections and provide a report to the Department of Justice on those efforts."

Kirsten Kukowski, Kirk spokesperson said in a statement, "protecting the voting rights of the men and women serving in the armed services is a nonpartisan issue. We will continue to monitor this issue to ensure that the deal reached today between the state and federal authorities affords military voters a meaningful opportunity to participate in this year's elections. The men and women protecting our freedoms deserve no less."

below, from the Justice Department....

JUSTICE DEPARTMENT REACHES AGREEMENT TO PROTECT RIGHTS

OF MILITARY AND OVERSEAS VOTERS IN ILLINOIS

WASHINGTON - The Justice Department today announced that it has reached an agreement with Illinois 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 Illinois's compliance with the 2009 Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment Act (MOVE Act).

The agreement, which must be approved by the federal district court in Chicago, was filed in conjunction with a lawsuit alleging the state violated federal law when numerous election authorities in Illinois counties failed to transmit ballots by Sept. 18, 2010, to military and overseas voters who requested absentee ballots, and in some counties failed to transmit ballots electronically to voters who had made such requests.

The agreement provides additional time beyond the state's existing Nov. 16, 2010, deadline - 14 days after election day - for receipt of ballots from military and overseas voters in six counties: Boone, Hancock, Jersey, Massac, Schuyler and St. Clair. The agreement also extends the date by which ballots from those counties must be postmarked from Nov. 1 to Nov. 2, 2010. In addition, the agreement requires that any voters who asked to receive their ballots electronically, but were sent the ballot by mail instead, will be transmitted a ballot by the requested electronic method.

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 their families 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, by mail or electronically at the voter's option, no later than 45 days before federal elections.

"The Justice Department is committed to vigorous enforcement of the MOVE Act so that members of the uniformed services, their families and other citizens living overseas are able to exercise their right to vote and know their votes will be counted," said Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division. "I am pleased that we are able to reach this agreement with Illinois officials, which will ensure that the state's military and overseas voters can participate in the upcoming federal elections."

As part of the agreement, the state will take steps to investigate the cause of the late mailing of ballots and failure to transmit ballots electronically and to ensure compliance in future federal elections and provide a report to the Department of Justice on those efforts.

The department previously reached agreements with Alaska, Colorado, the District of Columbia, Hawaii, Kansas, Mississippi, Nevada, North Dakota and the U.S. Virgin Islands; and filed lawsuits against New York, New Mexico, Wisconsin and Guam seeking relief to help ensure that military service members and other U.S. citizens living overseas have the opportunity to participate fully in the upcoming election. Consent decrees were reached with New York, New Mexico and Wisconsin, and a court-entered injunction was issued in the Guam case. More information about UOCAVA and other federal voting laws is available on the Department of Justice website at www.justice.gov/crt/voting/misc/activ_uoc.php. Complaints may be reported to the Voting Section of the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division at 1-800-253-3931.

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Lynn Sweet

Lynn Sweet is a columnist and the Washington Bureau Chief for the Chicago Sun-Times.

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This page contains a single entry by Lynn Sweet published on October 22, 2010 11:37 AM.

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