May 29, 2012

Contact: Shannan Velayas
(916) 653-6575

Federal Agreement Allows More June
Ballot Return Options for Military and
Overseas Voters in 11 California Counties

SACRAMENTO - Through an agreement between the California Secretary of State and the United States Department of Justice (USDOJ), extra care will be given to military and overseas citizen voters from 11 counties where local elections officials delayed ballot delivery for the June 5, 2012, Presidential Primary Election. The agreement must be approved by the United States District Court in Sacramento.

Americans who live overseas or serve in the military have historically faced unique challenges when voting because geographic distances and transmittal resources are often significant obstacles. Recognizing the extra time needed to get ballots to and from faraway voters, county elections officials frequently begin mailing ballots to military and overseas voters 60 days ahead of Election Day under California Elections Code section 3103(b). The federal Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act (UOCAVA) requires military and overseas ballots be sent no later than 45 days before a federal Election Day.

UOCAVA requires that elections officials transmit blank vote-by-mail ballots by mail or electronically to military and overseas voters, using the voter's preferred method of delivery. UOCAVA also specifies that military and overseas citizen voters be given the opportunity to designate a preference for receiving ballots either by mail or electronically.

Each of California's 58 counties has a chief elections official who is either independently elected or hired by an independently elected county board of supervisors.

Despite repeated reminders by California Secretary of State Debra Bowen leading up to the April 21 deadline for the June 5 election, 11 county elections officials failed to transmit vote-by-mail ballots to all absent uniformed services voters and overseas voters on time: Contra Costa, Fresno, Modoc, San Diego, San Francisco, San Mateo, Shasta, Sierra, Tehama, Trinity, and Ventura. Of the 8,249 ballots transmitted after the 45-day deadline, most were transmitted within two days after the deadline. Only 41 military and overseas ballots were transmitted after April 27. Secretary Bowen and USDOJ agree that, absent additional fast corrective action, some military and overseas voters from California might not have enough time to receive, mark, and return their ballots in order to have those ballots counted in the June 5 election.

Filed today in United States District Court for the Eastern District of California (located in Sacramento), the consent decree is an agreement between parties to resolve civil litigation through a judge's entry of a court order. Following is a summary of the consent decree entered into by USDOJ and the California Secretary of State.

Secretary Bowen provided California county elections officials repeated written and verbal reminders to meet this important federal deadline, including:

For broadcast media, the following is a suggested public service announcement script:

Are you a registered voter living overseas, serving in the U.S. military, or a member of a service member’s family? You may have several options when returning your June 5 California primary election ballot, depending on your home county. The federal government is requiring some California counties to accept ballots from military and overseas voters by express delivery at no cost to UOCAVA voters to ensure they arrive at county elections offices by 8 p.m. on June 5. For more information about your voting options, just call the California Secretary of State at (916) 651-3070 or email mov@sos.ca.gov. That number again: (916) 651-3070.

Go to www.justice.gov/iso/opa/resources/5132012529133127177851.pdf for the full text of the consent decree.

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