Alabama is violating federal law (no, not that law, the other law)

United States v. Alabama, No. 14-11298 (11th Cir. Feb. 12, 2015).

Soldiers from Pennsylvania casting their ballots in 1864 (courtesy Library of Congress).

Soldiers from Pennsylvania casting their ballots in 1864 (courtesy Library of Congress).

Obstacles to military voters are not new. In the 1864 election, for example, some northern states erected gratuitous barriers to the soldier vote—in part because the Democratic Party correctly assumed that most soldiers would vote for Lincoln. Some states did not allow soldiers to cast absentee ballots, so many military men had to take the long trip home in order to vote. Only about one-tenth of the Union army cast absentee ballots. But of those soldiers who did cast absentees, a whopping 78% voted for Lincoln against their old boss, the contemptible George McClellan. 

In 1986, in an effort to dismantle barriers to military voting, Congress enacted a law that goes by the unwieldy acronym UOCAVA. One of the provisions of that law says that when a military voter asks for an absentee ballot for a federal election, a state has to send that ballot to the voter 45 days before the election. 

The question in this case is whether that provision applies to runoff elections. That question arises because Alabama holds runoff elections 42 days after primaries. The United States has asked the federal courts to enjoin Alabama from doing that, on the ground that this schedule prevents Alabama from sending absentee ballots to military voters 45 days before the runoff election.

Analyzing the law, the Eleventh Circuit holds that UOCAVA’s 45-day requirement applies to runoff elections for federal office. Nothing else in the statute casts doubt on that requirement. The court affirms the district court’s injunction against Alabama.