A federal judge has dealt a setback to former Illinois residents who are blocked from voting by absentee ballot in next week’s presidential election because they now live in certain U.S. territories. In a written opinion last week, U.S. District Judge Joan B. Gottschall rejected the argument that the Illinois Military Overseas Voter Empowerment (MOVE) Act violates the equal protection clause by treating former Illinois voters differently depending on their current residence. Illinois’ MOVE Act bars former state residents living in Puerto Rico, Guam or the U.S. Virgin Islands from voting by Illinois absentee ballot in federal elections, but allows their counterparts in American Samoa and the Northern Mariana Islands to do so. The disparate treatment, Gottschall held, “is rationally related to legitimate state interests.”
Those interests include the “synchronization” of Illinois MOVE with federal overseas and absentee voting laws, Gottschall held. The language of Illinois MOVE, she wrote, tracks the language of one of those federal laws, the Overseas Citizens Voting Rights Act.
Gottschall conceded the Overseas Citizens Voting Rights Act was replaced by the Uniformed and Overseas Citizen Absentee Voting Act following the enactment of the MOVE Act.
She also conceded that the current federal statute differs from its predecessor by barring U.S. citizens living in American Samoa from voting by states’ absentee ballots in federal elections. But the fact that former Illinois residents living in American Samoa may vote by absentee ballot while former residents of other states also living there are barred from doing the same “does not create a constitutional inequity,” Gottschall wrote.