POSTED: 08:52 a.m. HST, Aug 27, 2010
LAST UPDATED: 03:52 p.m. HST, Aug 27, 2010
The Defense Department on Friday denied requests by Hawaii and three other states to ignore a new federal law meant to protect the voting rights of deployed troops and other Americans overseas.
The decision means Hawaii could be forced to give members of the military more time to vote this election season, which could delay final election results beyond the Nov. 2 election.
The law, signed in 2009, requires general election ballots to be sent at least 45 days before an election, but Hawaii's last-in-the-nation Sept. 18 primary election doesn't give the state enough time to do so. The primary is exactly 45 days before the general election, leaving no time to print ballots and mail them.
Alaska, Colorado, Wisconsin, the District of Columbia and the U.S. Virgin Islands had also asked the Defense Department for an exemption.
A U.S. Department of Justice spokeswoman said Friday it would work with states to bring them into compliance, and the department would file lawsuits against states that don't comply voluntarily.
A statement from Hawaii Chief Election Officer Scott Nago on Friday didn't address the possibility of election results being delayed.
"The Office of Elections will continue to work with the Federal Voting Assistance Program," he said. "We are confident that this collaboration will ensure that the roughly 300 military and overseas voters that have requested ballots will be able to exercise their right to vote and have their votes counted."
The state Office of Elections had proposed sending ballots to overseas voters 35 days before the general election, short of the 45 days required by federal law, a compromise the federal government found inadequate.
The state's proposed election plan wouldn't provide enough time for overseas voters to have their ballots counted, Lynn Simpson of the Department of Defense said in a letter to Hawaii elections officials.
Only a few Hawaii citizens have cast ballots from overseas in recent elections, possibly because they weren't returned to the islands in time.
In the 2008 general election, 827 overseas ballots were cast out of a total of more than 456,000. In 2006, only 237 overseas ballots were cast.
A new Hawaii law moves up the date of the primary election to the second Saturday of August, but it doesn't take effect until 2012.
State lawmakers had considered a measure to change this year's primary date to Aug. 14, but the bill didn't pass amid concerns that an earlier date wouldn't leave enough time for election preparation.
Hawaii has been in a similar situation before.
The state agreed to conduct a late count of ballots in 1986 as part of an agreement with the Department of Justice guaranteeing overseas voters enough time to receive, vote and return ballots.
Hawaii waiver denial: http://www.fvap.gov/reference/laws/hiwaiver.html