Justice Department Files Suit Against Vermont, Secretary of State Markowitz for Noncompliance with Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act

WASHINGTON - The Justice Department announced today the filing of a lawsuit against the State of Vermont and Vermont Secretary of State Deborah L. Markowitz, alleging violations of the Uniformed Overseas Citizen Absentee Voting Act (UOCAVA).

UOCAVA is designed to ensure that uniformed military members and overseas citizens may effectively participate in federal elections. Vermont and the Secretary are responsible for collecting and reporting the number of military voters and overseas citizens who are sent ballots, return them and have them successfully cast in each federal general election. Vermont has failed to fulfill this important obligation ever since it became law in the Help America Vote Act of 2002. The complaint filed in the U.S. District Court in Burlington, Vt., seeks a declaration that Vermont has previously violated the law, and seeks an injunction against any future noncompliance.

"Accurate and complete information about whether our uniformed service members and overseas citizens are being given an effective opportunity to have their votes counted is essential," said Grace Chung Becker, Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division. "Without it, Congress and the public cannot determine whether states are fulfilling their obligations to let uniformed service members and overseas citizens fully participate in our elections."

The Election Assistance Commission (EAC) publishes a report every two years and provides data for every state and jurisdiction in the country about how many absentee ballots were transmitted to UOCAVA voters, how many were returned and how many were cast in federal general elections. UOCAVA specifically mandates that state and local governments report to the EAC "not later than 90 days after the date of each regularly scheduled general election for Federal office" the "combined number of absentee ballots that are transmitted to absent uniformed services voters and overseas voters for the election and the combined number of such ballots which were returned by such voters and cast in the election." 42 U.S.C. § 1973ff-1(c) (2003). Further, the States must "make such a report available to the general public." Vermont has never submitted the reports required by this law. The Justice Department has the authority to bring an action to enforce compliance by the states.