WASHINGTON, D.C. — On Wednesday, Aug. 31, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) submitted a statement of interest (a statement by the solicitor general outlining the United States’ position regarding an ongoing lawsuit in which the DOJ isn’t a party) in a federal lawsuit brought by Republicans challenging Illinois’ mail-in ballot receipt deadline. Illinois allows mail-in ballots to be received and counted for up to two weeks after Election Day. The Republican plaintiffs challenge this ballot receipt deadline as effectively extending Election Day, arguing that because federal law establishes Election Day as the first Tuesday in November, Illinois should be precluded from counting ballots after that day. Despite the fact that Illinois only counts ballots that were legally cast on or before Election Day, the plaintiffs nevertheless contend that their votes are “diluted” by “illegal votes” received and counted after Election Day.
In its statement of interest, the DOJ asserts that “permitting the counting of otherwise valid ballots cast by election day even though they are received thereafter does not violate federal statutes setting the day for federal elections.” Its statement raises the fact that the practice, in addition to complying with federal law, is crucial to “ensuring that military and overseas voters are able to exercise their right to vote.” Under the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act of 1986 (UOCAVA), military and overseas voters are able to vote by casting an absentee ballot. The DOJ maintains that, in line with the goals of UOCAVA, “Illinois’s vote-by-mail ballot receipt deadline helps to ensure that otherwise valid ballots cast by the state’s military and overseas voters, among other citizens, on or before election day are received in time to be counted, notwithstanding the logistical challenges that can often result from transporting ballots from overseas or distant locations across the country.” The DOJ further reiterates that the Illinois statute being challenged by the plaintiffs does not allow voters to cast their ballots after Election Day has concluded, but only extends the receipt deadline for ballots validly cast by Election Day, which helps prevent the disenfranchisement of military and overseas voters.