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Hawaii reaches agreement with feds on overseas ballots


Hawaii will use FedEx and Express Mail to send absentee ballots to hundreds of overseas and military voters by Express Mail or FedEx for the Nov. 2 general election under an agreement reached between the state and the U.S. Justice Department.

The state will pay for the cost of the mailings, including return postage.

In the 2008 general election, 827 overseas ballots were cast, while in 2006 the state received only 237 overseas ballots.

The agreement will bring the state in compliance with the Military and Overseas Voter Act, a new federal law passed by Congress to ensure troops serving overseas and other U.S. citizens are able to vote.

The agreement was announced today by state Attorney General Mark Bennett and Hawaii Chief Election Officer Scott Nago.

The new law requires that ballots be sent overseas by tomorrow, 45 days before the Nov. 2 election.

But Hawaii holds its primary election, the last in the country, tomorrow.

The agreement gives the state 10 additional days to send ballots to overseas voters. It requires the state to mail ballots to overseas voters by Sept. 28, or notify the U.S. Justice Department if it cannot.

Wisconsin, Hawaii, Alaska, Colorado, the District of Columbia and the U.S. Virgin Islands were denied waivers to the 45-day deadline this year.

All overseas ballots must still be received by Election Day on Nov. 2 to be counted in Hawaii.

Hawaii officials contended that the absentee ballot plan prepared by the state Office of Elections provided more than enough time for overseas voters to receive and return their absentee ballots.

"While I continue to believe the Election Office’s legal position was sound, the steps to which the state has agreed—which will help facilitate voting by our men and women in the military, and other overseas voters—are in the public interest," Bennett said in a news release.

In a written statement, Nago said, "I believe this is a fair resolution of this matter. I am glad we were able to work collaboratively with the DOJ and avoid litigation."

Beginning in 2012, Hawaii’s primary election will be held on the second Saturday in August to comply with the new federal law.

The Legislature considered pushing up this year’s primary election day but the idea was rejected because of fears of low voter turnout and complicating the primary election’s operations.

Polling stations are typically reserved two years in advance to ensure availability and accessibility, and moving up the date this year would have affected training for poll workers, elections officials said.

Earlier this month, the Justice Department reached an agreement with Wisconsin, which was also denied a waiver, to allow extra time — until Nov. 19 — for ballots from overseas voters to be returned.

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