October 14, 2008

Vermont Sued Over Military Ballots

The U.S. Justice Department is suing the state of Vermont, claiming it violated the Uniformed Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act, officials said Tuesday.

In legal papers, the Justice Department claims Vermont Secretary of State Deborah Markowitz, who is also named as a defendant, has failed to collect and report the number of military voters and citizens living abroad who are sent ballots and return them. The lawsuit alleges the state has failed in its obligations since the Help America Vote Act became law in 2002.

Grace Chung Becker, acting head of the Civil Rights Division, said the information is critical to determining that U.S. citizens overseas have "an effective opportunity to have their votes counted."

Markowitz told the Barre Montpellier Times Argus she had not seen the federal complaint. She said in 2006 the Justice Department sent its survey to Vermont in mid-October, after absentee ballots were sent to town clerks and local election officials.

She said this year the state sent the survey to local officials with the absentee ballots.

The lawsuit does not charge that Vermont has kept members of the military from voting. It asks for an admission from the state that it broke the law and an injunction ordering future compliance.