This page provides a brief history of the state of Wisconsin’s successful efforts to comply with the Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment (MOVE) Act by moving primary dates and developing methods to speed delivery of absentee ballots to military and overseas voters.
Wisconsin has always had a strong record of serving its military and overseas voters. Independent groups have consistently ranked Wisconsin among the best states in the country because local election officials have the ability to fax and email ballots to military and overseas voters, greatly reducing the time it takes for them to receive and return their ballots.
However, other states did not fare as well as Wisconsin, and in 2009, Congress passed the MOVE Act, which imposed a number of new requirements on all state and local election officials to ensure that military and overseas voters have the full opportunity to vote guaranteed by the Uniformed and Overseas Civilian Absentee Voting Act (UOCAVA).
One of the primary requirements of the MOVE Act is for the state to transmit the official printed ballot to absent uniformed services and overseas voters no later than 45 days before federal elections. However, Wisconsin law in 2009 required the partisan primary to be held on the second Tuesday in September, which made it impossible for the official printed ballots to be ready 45 days before the November General Election.
Waiver Request and Consent Decrees
In 2010, because the Wisconsin Legislature had not yet changed the state's primary election date, the State of Wisconsin requested a waiver of the 45-day requirement pursuant to UOCAVA § 102(g). (See Wisconsin UOCAVA 102(a)(8)(A) Waiver Request 2010 FINAL.pdf, attached below.)
The waiver request was denied, and the U.S. Department of Justice filed a lawsuit, United States of America v. State of Wisconsin, et al., Case No. 10-CV-518, in U.S. District Court, Western District of Wisconsin. The lawsuit resulted in a consent decree, which was approved by the federal court. (See MOVE Act Consent Decree - signed 09-15-10.pdf, attached below.)
The following year, the Wisconsin Legislature passed 2011 Wisconsin Acts 45 and 75, which moved the date of the Presidential Preference Primary to April and the date of the Partisan Primary to August. These changes also permitted military and overseas voters to access their ballots 47 days prior to Federal elections, two days sooner than the 45 days required by the Federal MOVE Act. Ballots postmarked by Election Day are eligible for counting if they are received in the clerk’s office until 4 p.m. the following Friday, which results in up to 50 days for military and overseas voters to receive their ballots, vote, and return them to be counted.
In early 2012, approximately 65 of Wisconsin’s 1,851 municipalities failed to meet the new deadline to transmit absentee ballots to military and overseas voters for the Presidential Preference Primary. As a result, the U.S. DOJ initiated a second lawsuit, United States of America v. State of Wisconsin, et al., Case No. 12 -CV-197 in the U.S. District Court, Western District of Wisconsin. This lawsuit lead to a second consent decree. (See MOVE Act Consent Decree 2 - signed 03-23-12.pdf and MOVE Act Consent Decree 2 Attachments.pdf, attached below.) For the 2012 Presidential Election there were a total of 9,453 military and overseas ballots issued, of which only four voters did not have at least 45 days to receive their ballots, vote and return them for counting. Of the four, three were returned on time, and the fourth voter did not return the ballot.
In 2012, the Government Accountability Board launched the MyVote Wisconsin website (http://myvote.wi.gov) which allows military and overseas voters to receive their absentee ballots online without assistance from local election officials. These ballots are returned by mail. The website was built with the assistance of a competitively-awarded $2 million grant from the Department of Defense’s Federal Voting Assistance Program.
The change in primary dates and the addition of MyVote Wisconsin have greatly expanded the opportunity for military and overseas voters to participate in the electoral process.
On April 3, 2013, the G.A.B. provided a status report to the U.S. DOJ, which is the final requirement of the second consent decree. Highlights regarding the impact of MyVote Wisconsin on voting by military and overseas electors during the 2012 Presidential and General Election are described in the status report. (See WI Move Act Compliance Status Report to US-DOJ - 4-3-2013.pdf and Gov. Walker - Move Act Compliance Status Report - Transmittal 4-11-2013.pdf, attached below.)