A judge has granted a request from the U.S. Department of Justice for a temporary restraining order against Alabama and its chief elections officer, Alabama Secretary of State Beth Chapman's office, regarding absentee ballots. The restraining order follows a federal lawsuit filed Monday.
Judge Myron Thompson asked both parties to come together to find a solution. He wants a report back from them by Saturday, March 3.
The Department of Justice's restraining order seeks compliance with Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act (UOCAVA) mandates and asks the court to order Alabama to provide "all relevant facts" related to its violations.
DOJ says the remedy should include an extension of Alabama's 45 day deadline and "targeted publicity efforts" to inform voters of the change. Further, DOJ says the state should give the voter the option of having their ballot transmitted by e-mail and returned by express mail at no cost to the voter.
The Justice Department alleges that the state missed a key deadline (January 28) to submit absentee ballots to military members and citizens overseas for the March 13th federal primary election. The deadline - 45 days prior to an election - is designed to give citizens enough time to receive, mark and return their ballot in time for the election.
The Justice Department said that because Alabama also failed to meet the deadline for the UOCAVA ballots during the November 2010 general elections, it decided to contact by telephone approximately 40 of the state's county probate offices.
The DOJ stated in its temporary restraining order request that at least 25 Alabama counties reported sending out the ballots after the deadline. Those counties included Baldwin, Bullock, Calhoun, Chilton, Coffee, Conecuh, Cullman, Dale, Dallas, Elmore, Etowah, Hale, Jefferson, Lauderdale, Limestone, Madison, Marshall, Mobile, Montgomery, Morgan, Pike, St. Clair, Sumter and Tuscaloosa Counties.
The Justice Department said because of the failure to meet the deadline, as many at 533 overseas voters from those counties could be disenfranchised.
The Justice Department's filing says Alabama Secretary of State Beth Chapman's office extended the deadline to send the ballots, but only after the federal government inquired about the issue.
Alabama's March 13 primary election will determine the ballot for seven federal positions including Alabama's delegation of representatives to Washington and the President of the United States.
Secretary of State Chapman's office issued a statement Tuesday night. "In my six years as Secretary of State the record without question shows that no one has done more in our state or nation than my staff and I do ensure that members of our military have the right to cast their votes and have them counted - and they will be this year. The judge's order reflects only one side of the story which are accusations from the Justice Department. When the facts are presented the evidence will prove my unwavering commitment to the voting rights of our men and women in uniform."