By Jeff Marchesseault and Baldo Besich from GuamNewsWatch.com
GUAM - Last week the U.S. Attorney General promised to sue Guam over election law violations. And now it comes to pass. The Department of Justice filed their complaint today in the U.S. District Court of Guam following news that the Guam Election Commission had failed to deliver timely ballots to overseas service members and citizens who are registered to vote on island.
Nevertheless, the atmosphere has been cooperative.
Last week, News Watch noted that the Guam Election Commission had been working closely with the Justice Department after failing to comply with the Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment (MOVE) Act.
The U.S. Department of Justice was warning the Election Commission that litigation was imminent. This, even though the case would involve as few as 100 votes in an unopposed federal election. The race in question is for Guam's non-voting Delegate, a seat presently held by incumbent candidate and Member of Congress, Madeleine Z. Bordallo - widely considered a shoo-in for reelection.
GEC attorney Rawlen Mantanona told the commission last week that the federal government would petition the court to enforce Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act (UOCAVA) provisions on Guam. Mantanona broke word to commissioners that a court could decide whether or not they would have to accept late votes in the nonvoting delegate's race.
Nevertheless, the commission voted not to break a conflicting local statute that does not accept votes after election day, even though by doing so they failed to comply with a federal request.
As of last week, the commission was in the process of contacting 83 service members online and over the phone - giving them an option to download email ballots or to wait for paper ballots in the mail.
The arrival of GEC's ballot card stock supply had been delayed - which bottlenecked the timely delivery of federal ballots for the Congressional seat.
To protect GovGuam races, GEC broke ballots into three pages: (1) partisan races for Governor and Legislature, (2) the nonpartisan race for Attorney General, and (3) the federal race for non-voting U.S. Delegate.
Local legal counsel has argued that the the low number of votes in question would not sway the race. But the Justice Department insists that 'the law is the law' and that all states and territories will be taken to court if they do not comply. However, as News Watch explained last week, the court case will not prevent polls from opening November 2nd.
Commissioner Josh Tenorio told News Watch, "we don't expect the local races to be affected by the actions that the Justice Department will be taking against the commission." Throughout its teleconferences over the previous week, the Justice Department never questioned the validity of the upcoming Gubernatorial and Legislative election. Here is the official news release from the U.S. Department of Justice explaining the rationale behind its suit against Guam election officials:
JUSTICE DEPARTMENT ANNOUNCES LAWSUIT TO PROTECT RIGHTS OF MILITARY AND OVERSEAS VOTERS IN GUAM
WASHINGTON – The Justice Department announced today that it has filed a lawsuit against Guam and its election officials seeking emergency relief to help ensure that military service members and other U.S. citizens living overseas have the opportunity to participate fully in the Nov. 2, 2010, federal general election.
The lawsuit, brought under the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act (UOCAVA), was filed in federal district court in Hagatna, Guam. The department also filed a motion for emergency relief seeking additional time – until Nov. 15, 2010, – for receipt of absentee ballots to ensure eligible military and overseas voters have sufficient time to receive, cast and return their ballots and to have their votes counted. The suit also requests an order requiring Guam officials to take steps to ensure that military and overseas voters have the option of receiving their blank absentee ballots by email.
"Our uniformed service members and other overseas citizens deserve a meaningful opportunity to participate in the elections of our nation's leaders," said Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division. "This suit seeks both immediate and permanent relief to ensure that Guam's military and overseas voters, many of whom are members of our armed forces and their families serving our country around the world, will have their votes counted in the upcoming, and future, federal elections."
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 action was necessary because Guam failed to mail ballots to its military and overseas citizens until between Sept. 27, 2010, and Oct. 1, 2010, well beyond UOCAVA's deadline of Sept. 18, 2010, the 45th day before this year's general election. Guam also did not timely establish procedures to offer voters the option of receiving their ballots electronically. The requested extension of the deadline for counting UOCAVA ballots will ensure military and overseas voters have a 45-day period to receive, mark and return their ballots.
More information about UOCAVA and other federal voting laws is available on the Department of Justice website at www.usdoj.gov/crt/voting/misc/activ_uoc.htm. Complaints may be reported to the Voting Section of the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division at 1-800-253-3931 .