The Justice Department has reached an agreement or won a court order in 14 states and territories to protect more than 65,000 overseas and military voters ahead of the Nov. 2 midterm elections, Assistant Attorney General Thomas Perez said Wednesday.
Perez, who heads the department's civil rights division, told reporters that the department sued four states and Guam in September and October over violations of the 2009 Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment Act, which expanded protections for overseas absentee voters.
The law requires that ballots be sent to military and overseas voters at least 45 days before a federal election so jurisdictions have time to count those ballots.
For various reasons _ Perez said "there's no excuse that's a legitimate excuse" _ several states and territories didn't get ballots sent on time this year, prompting the Justice Department to sue or negotiate out-of-court agreements. Among the remedies employed were an extension of time to count ballots received after Nov. 2, express mail of absentee ballots, notification of voters about changes in procedures.
Wisconsin, New Mexico, New York and Illinois agreed to consent decrees before the cases were heard in court. The lawsuit in Guam went to trial, and a federal judge there ordered Guam to accept these ballots until Nov. 15.
Nine jurisdictions _ Alaska, Colorado, Washington D.C., Hawaii, Kansas, Mississippi, Nevada, North Dakota and the Virgin Islands _ reached out-of-court settlements.
On Wednesday, a federal judge rejected a motion by the Republican Party in Illinois to allow military and overseas voters to send their ballots up to 2 1/2 weeks after Nov. 2. The Justice Department opposed the motion, which Perez described as "unprecedented ... in any election cycle."
"They are saying, 'I want to wait and see who won, and then cast my ballot'," Perez said. "They're seeking a new paradigm and the law does not allow for that."
Illinois is one of three states where voters will elect a U.S. senator whose term will start in the lame-duck session just after election day.
Perez said the Justice Department will continue to monitor states and territories for violations, even after the Nov. 2 election.
The act allowed the Defense Department to grant or deny waivers of the 45-day requirement. The Pentagon granted waivers to Delaware, Massachusetts, New York, Rhode Island, and Washington state. New York's wavier allowed it to send ballots as late at Oct. 1, but it missed that deadline for more than 43,000 ballots, which prompted the Justice Department lawsuit in that state.
(This version CORRECTS Replaces 7th paragraph to correct 'before' to 'after' election.)