Normally, Novak writes, Democrats are anxious to criticize the Bush Pentagon. But not this time around. Not a single member of the majority party has signed on as a co-sponsor of Blunt's resolution, and without Democratic support, the measure has no chance of passing.
Meanwhile, U.S. military members serving overseas remained the most disenfranchised segment of our electorate:
Analysis by the federal Election Assistance Commission, rejecting inflated Defense Department voting claims, estimated overseas and absentee military voting for the 2006 midterm elections at a disgracefully low 5.5 percent. The quality of voting statistics is so poor that there is no way to tell how many of the slightly over 330,000 votes actually were sent in by the absentee military voters and their dependents and how many by civilian Americans living abroad -- 6 million all total.
Nobody who has studied the question objectively sees any improvement since 2006, and that is a scandal. Retired U.S. Marine Corps Capt. Charles Henry wrote in the July issue of the U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings: "While virtually everyone involved ... seems to agree that military people deserve at least equal opportunity when it comes to having their votes counted, indications are that in November 2008, many thousands of service members who try to vote will do so in vain."
However, Congressional efforts to assist military voters are not at a complete standstill. According to Mr. Novak, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer of Maryland met with Mr. Blunt several weeks ago, and "agreed in principle" to co-sponsor a resolution, aimed at prodding the Defense Department into action.
We'll hold the applause for Mr. Hoyer. Not only has he failed (so far) to keep his promise to Congressman Blunt, but the majority leader also refused to act on an earlier military voting bill, introduced by Republican Representative Kevin McCarthy of California.
His proposal was modest--and eminently sensible, requiring DoD to ship completed absentee ballots by air transport, cutting delivery time from three or four weeks, to as little as three days. Without Democratic support, the McCarthy plan also remains in limbo.
So why are Democrats--who made a mantra of "make every vote count"--so unconcerned about absentee ballots from military members overseas? The answer is rooted in pure, partisan politics. As we observed a couple of months ago, members of the armed forces represent a solidly Republican voting bloc. In an era of tight political races, the Democrats don't want thousands of military absentee ballots in the system, knowing that 60% of them are cast for GOP candidates.
Mr. Novak suggests that current problems can be blamed largely on the White House (which seems indifferent to the issue) and the Pentagon bureaucracy. And, while it is true that the Bush Administration has demonstrated no leadership on military voting rights, we should remember that the Pentagon can't change the current procedures without Congressional approval.
Sad to say, but the party that now controls the House and Senate likes the current system, just the way it is.
ADDENDUM: As The Weekly Standard observed a couple of months ago, the armed forces voting problem could be easily solved with an innovative solution--creating polling places on military installations around the world. Votes from service members and their dependents could be cast and transmitted electronically to their home state, ensuring receipt by election day. Needless to say, Congress won't even discuss that idea.