Barack Obama wants every military vote to count.
According to Air Force Times, the general counsel of the Obama for America organization, Robert Brunner, sent a letter earlier this week to the top election officials in the 50 states and the District of Columbia. In his letter, Mr. Brunner asks the states (and the federal district) to make an extra effort to count absentee ballots by military voters.
We're now waiting for Chris Matthews, Keith Olberman, the Politico editorial team (and the rest of the Obama-crazed media) to hail the Democratic nominee's "bi-partisan gesture." After all, most of those military absentee ballots will go to John McCain, perhaps by a 3-1 margin. With his letter, Mr. Obama seems to break with his own party, which has tried to suppress military votes in the past.
Readers will recall that during the infamous Florida recount of 2000, Democratic lawyers deliberately targeted absentee ballots from armed forces personnel serving outside the state, realizing they would add to George W. Bush's narrow margin. Eventually, many of the military votes were counted, but only after a judge ruled against the Democrats.
Eight years later, the Obama letter is little more than a carefully-crafted political ploy. The Democratic candidate understands that absentee voting is governed by the states, and the laws vary greatly across the country. Without a court ruling (or a interpretation by state attorney generals), local officials are still required to enforce election laws, and in many jurisdictions, military absentee ballots can--and will--be discarded, for a variety of reasons.
In Virginia, for example, a Democratic registrar in Fairfax County was prepared to reject a number of absentee votes from military personnel because they lacked an address for the witnessing official. The address is required under Virginia law, but unfortunately, the DoD-produced form lacks a space for that information. Only the intervention of the state Attorney General kept those ballots from being tossed out.
Mr. Obama and his campaign are also aware that many military votes are discarded for a simple reason--they arrive after the deadline for submitting absentee ballots. The reasons for that are two-fold: local officials often mail the ballots just days before the election and by the time military members and their families return them, the submission date has already passed.
Obviously, the Obama letter has no legal authority, so it can't extend absentee voting deadlines, or generate faster mail service for military personnel serving overseas. But it will add handsomely to his "post-partisan" pedigree, with a little assistance from a compliant press.
What we really need is a military version of Joe the Plumber, who can cut the chase on this issue. He should ask Mr. Obama: "If you're in favor of making military votes count, why haven't you supported the McCarthy bill, which remains stalled in the House?
That measure, introduced earlier this year by Califormia Congressman Kevin McCarthy, would require the Pentagon to return absentee ballots by the fastest form of conveyance, ensuring that many more are returned before the submission deadline. To date, not a single Democrat has offered to co-sponsor the McCarthy plan; without bi-partisan support, it stands no chance of passage.
Then, Joe the Soldier should pose this question: "Why did your majority leader in the House, Maryland Congressman Steny Hoyer, back out of an agreement with Republican Roy Blunt to improve military voting?" A few months ago, Mr. Hoyer reneged on a promise to back Mr. Blunt's bill, which called on DoD to make it easier for for military personnel overseas to cast their vote--and make it count. Does Senator Obama support Hoyer's position?
Finally, Joe might ask what Mr. Obama has done to guarantee the franchise for military personnel and their families during his time in the Senate. A quick review of the record reveals that Mr. Obama has expressed little interest--let alone leadership--on this issue.
To be fair, Republicans are equally guilty in ignoring the plight of military voters. While George W. Bush received over 60% of the armed services' vote in two presidential campaigns, his own administration has done little to address the matter. When the Pentagon proposed--then scrapped--a proposed on-line voting system, there was nary a peep from the White House, or Congressional Republicans. Mr. McCarthy, Mr. Blunt and a handful of their GOP colleagues are exceptions to the collective indifference.
Interestingly enough, there is a solution to this problem. Last month, Arizona Secretary of State Jan Brewer, a Republican, implemented a secure, on-line voting system for military personnel and other Arizonans living outside the state. Utilizing the same encryption technology used to process on-line credit card purchases, the Arizona system allows members of the armed forces to vote from anywhere in the world. The system is safe, secure, and verifiable. Would Mr. Obama favor a similar system for all members of the armed forces?
That's another good question that Joe the Soldier should ask. And here's one more: with more than two-thirds of military ballots going uncounted in presidential elections, don't our military personnel deserve real action, and not just meaningless letters? We're waiting for your answers, Mr. Obama.