Military and Overseas Voters in California

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The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) recently entered into a consent decree with California after more than 8,000 ballots were sent to military and overseas voters later than federally required for the state’s June 5 primary.

The Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act (UOCAVA) requires ballots to be sent at least 45 days before a federal election to all military and overseas voters who have requested them. Eleven counties in California missed that April 21 deadline. Approximately two-thirds of the late ballots were sent within two days after the deadline. Another 41 ballots were transmitted after April 27.

The California Secretary of State’s office agreed with the DOJ action and with the required remedies, which include counties contacting affected voters by email and alerting them of the option to return ballots by fax or express delivery at no cost to the voter.

In at least one county, the delay was due to last-minute revisions. In San Mateo County, a candidate had to be removed, requiring that ballots be reprinted, which delayed sending them out.

Benjamin Wagner, U.S. attorney representing California's Eastern District, said the counties were clearly not intentionally sending ballots out late.

"Nobody is intending to disenfranchise the military," Wagner told California Watch. "Each of them (the counties) have their own elections officials and registrars of voters, and they're all trying to comply with new regulations. What this enforcement action is intended to do is put some teeth behind that statute."