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Segovia v. Board of Election Commissioners for City of Chicago

United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division

October 28, 2016

LUIS SEGOVIA, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
BOARD OF ELECTION COMMISSIONERS FOR THE CITY OF CHICAGO, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          Joan B. Gottschall United States District Judge.

         The plaintiffs in this action are six United States citizens who are former residents of Illinois and who now reside in Puerto Rico, Guam, or the U.S. Virgin Islands, plus two organizations that promote voting rights in United States territories. The defendants are comprised of state and federal voting-related commissions and groups, as well as the United States of America and several individuals sued in their official capacities. A complete description of the parties and the underlying factual history of the case can be found in this court's August 23, 2016 Memorandum Opinion and Order (the “prior order”) [63].

         Before the court is the plaintiffs' second motion for summary judgment [70] and the federal defendants' cross-motion for summary judgment [77]. The plaintiffs raise two main arguments: first, they challenge the constitutionality of the Illinois Military Overseas Voter Empowerment Act (“Illinois MOVE”), arguing that this statute violates their equal protection rights by excluding former Illinois voters now living in Puerto Rico, Guam, and the U.S. Virgin Islands (“USVI”) from voting by Illinois absentee ballot in federal elections, while allowing former Illinois residents living in American Samoa and the Northern Mariana Islands (“NMI”) to vote absentee. Second, the plaintiffs contend that Illinois MOVE and the Uniformed and Overseas Citizen Absentee Voting Act (“UOCAVA”), infringe upon their substantive due process right to interstate travel.

         As discussed below, the court concludes that Illinois MOVE does not violate the plaintiffs' equal protection rights because this statute's different treatment of former Illinois residents living in various U.S. territories is rationally related to legitimate state interests. These legitimate state interests include the synchronization of Illinois MOVE with applicable federal overseas and absentee voting laws such as the UOCAVA's predecessor statute, the Overseas Citizens Voting Rights Act (“OCVRA”). In arriving at this conclusion, the court rejects the plaintiffs' request for strict scrutiny review of Illinois MOVE and applies instead the more lenient rational basis review.

         The plaintiffs' briefs focus extensively on the fact that Illinois MOVE tracks the language of the UOCAVA's predecessor statute, the OCVRA, instead of the more recent UOCAVA. However, the court notes that the practical effect of Illinois MOVE's alleged “outdatedness” is the enfranchisement of more former Illinois citizens living in U.S. territories than federal law currently provides. This consequence of enhanced absentee voting rights does not create a constitutional inequality because Congress specifically has authorized the states to provide more generous voting rights than those provided by the UOCAVA.

         The court also rejects the plaintiffs' argument that Illinois MOVE and the UOCAVA unconstitutionally burden their right to interstate travel. The plaintiffs' inability to vote in federal elections by absentee ballot in their respective territories stems not from a violation of their right to travel, but from the constitutional status of Puerto Rico, Guam, and the USVI.

         Thus, the court denies the plaintiffs' second motion for summary judgment and grants the federal defendants' cross-motion for summary judgment.

         I. LEGAL ARGUMENT

         A. RELEVANT STATUTES: the OCVRA, the UOCAVA, and Illinois MOVE

         Before turning to the parties' summary judgment arguments, the court first identifies the three statutes involved in the court's ruling and the key definitions of each:

         The Overseas Citizens Voting Rights Act (OCVRA), Pub. L. 94-203, 89 Stat. 1142, was enacted in 1976 and provided uniform procedures for absentee voting in federal elections. This federal statute imposed a range of responsibilities on the states, including Illinois, relating to absentee voting by citizens of the United States residing overseas, as those terms are defined in the statute. It has now been repealed but nevertheless is relevant in this case. It contained the following definitions:

• “State” means each of the several States, the District of Columbia, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Virgin Islands. 42 U.S.C. § 1973dd(2).
• “United States” includes the several States, the District of Columbia, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Virgin Islands, but does not include American Samoa, the Canal Zone, the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands, or any other territory or possession of the United States. 42 U.S.C. § 1973dd(3).

         The Uniformed and Overseas Citizen Absentee Voting Act (UOCAVA), 52 U.S.C. § 20302, replaced the OCVRA in 1986. It also imposes a range of responsibilities on the states, including Illinois, relating to absentee voting in federal elections by uniformed service members or overseas voters, as those terms are defined in the statute. It contains the following definitions:

• “State” means a State of the United States, the District of Columbia, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, Guam, the Virgin Islands, and American Samoa. 52 U.S.C. § 20310(6).
• “United States, ” where used in the territorial sense, means the several States, the District of Columbia, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, Guam, the Virgin Islands, and American Samoa. 52 U.S.C. § 20310(8).

         Illinois MOVE, 10 Ill. Comp. Stat. § 5/20-1 et seq., likewise addresses absentee voting for Illinois residents who live overseas. It contains the following relevant definition:

• “Territorial limits of the United States” means each of the several States of the United States and includes the District of Columbia, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, Guam and the Virgin Islands; but does not include American Samoa, the Canal Zone, the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands or any other territory or possession of the United States. 10 Ill. Comp. Stat. § 5/20-1(1).

         Putting these three statutes together, the following result occurs: under the now repealed OCVRA, former Illinois residents living in Puerto Rico, Guam, and the USVI were not eligible to vote by absentee ballot because they were included within the statute's definitions of “State” and the “United States.” Former Illinois residents living in the NMI and American Samoa were not similarly included in these definitions and thus could vote absentee. Under the UOCAVA, the same result occurred except that American Samoa also was included within the definition of “State” and “United States” so former Illinois residents living in American Samoa lost the ability to vote by absentee ballot. Under Illinois MOVE, which tracks the language of the OCVRA (the reason for this will be discussed at length below), American Samoa and the NMI are not included within the definition of the “[territorial limits of the ...


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