The U.S. Department of Justice and the V.I. government have signed a consent decree aimed at ensuring the territory allows its absent military members and voters living overseas to fully participate in the upcoming primary and general elections. The consent decree, filed in federal court on St. Thomas on Friday, settles a lawsuit that the U.S. Department of Justice filed the same day, alleging that the territory has violated the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act, as amended by the Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment Act, by failing to transmit absentee ballots to overseas and military voters in a timely manner. The territory already has signed the consent decree, thereby agreeing to its mandates. However, a judge must sign off on the agreement for it to be valid. A hearing on the matter is scheduled in U.S. District Court before Judge Curtis Gomez this morning.
V.I. Elections Supervisor John Abramson Jr. said that he has been recommending for more than two years that local lawmakers change V.I. Code to comply with the federal law. “We’ve been trying to tell them that they should fix this issue,” Abramson said. “They hadn’t fixed it, and this is where we end up. We get sued by the feds.” The lawsuit named the V.I. government, the Joint Boards of Elections, the district boards of Elections and Abramson, in his official capacity.
Abramson said that once the consent decree is accepted and signed by a judge, he will ask the boards of Election to forward copies of the agreement to the Legislature so that senators will understand the additional work they need to do. Under federal law, the territory is required to send absentee ballots to those qualified voters who are U.S. citizens overseas or military members at least 45 days before an election that includes a federal vote, such as the one for V.I. Delegate to Congress. For Saturday’s primary, that means the deadline for transmission of absentee ballots to voters who requested them should have been July 25, according to court documents.