The headline at Fox News says it all:
"Military Voting Rights at Risk"
Less than 80 days before the mid-term elections, many members of the armed forces, serving overseas, are at risk of being disenfranchised--again.
It's a problem we've written about extensively in recent years; our most recent post on the subject appeared less than three weeks ago.
The problem is rather simple. Military personnel stationed in places like Iraq and Afghanistan often don't receive their absentee ballots in time to fill them out and return them before the submission deadline. As a result, many of them are tossed out. By one estimate, at least 17,000 absentee ballots from armed forces personnel (and their dependents) were rejected in 2008. That would make military members and their dependents the most disenfranchised segment of the American electorate. The terrible irony of that statement cannot be over-stated.
In an effort to remedy the problem, Congress passed the Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment Act last year. It mandates that local officials send out absentee ballots to expatriate voters no later than 45 days before the general election. In theory, that will give military personnel (and other Americans living abroad) more time to complete their ballots and return them within state submission guidelines.
But, as we noted earlier this month, the Obama Justice Department has made little effort to enforce the new law. Indeed, there's some evidence that DOJ officials have encouraged states to file waivers, exempting them from the requirements of the MOVE act:
"...former DOJ attorney J. Christian Anderson--the same man who testified against the the government when it dropped the Black Panthers case--the Justice Department has little interest in enforcing the new military voting law:“
I do know that they have adopted positions or attempted to adopt positions to waivers that prove they aren’t interested in aggressively enforcing the law,” Adams told FoxNews.com. “They shouldn’t be going to meeting with state election officials and telling them they don’t like to litigate cases and telling them that the waiver requirements are ambiguous.”
One of Anderson's former DOJ colleagues, Eric Eversole--who now runs the Military Voter Protection Project--also believes that enforcing the law is a low priority:
“It is an absolute shame that the section appears to be spending more time finding ways to avoid the MOVE Act, rather than finding ways to ensure that military voters will have their votes counted,” said Eversole.
"The Voting Section seems to have forgotten that it has an obligation to enforce federal law, not to find and raise arguments for states to avoid these laws."
While the Justice Department insists it is committed to upholding the MOVE Act, its actions suggest otherwise. So far, at least a dozen states and territories have filed waivers with the department, claiming they cannot meet the specified deadline. The reaction from DOJ--a bureaucratic yawn, and those telling comment about the "ambiguity" of waiver requirements.
Additionally, the Military Voter Protection Project claims that 16 states have failed to implement at least one of the law's key provisions; 11 have not adopted the 45-day rule for mailing out absentee ballots and five states have not implemented the act's electronic delivery mandate. And not a peep from Eric Holder and the folks at DOJ.
During a Fox News segment Sunday afternoon, Colorado Secretary of State Bernie Buescher (a Democrat) defended election officials' efforts to comply with the law:
"The problem is that because we have a late primary and we have a very careful certification process to make sure the integrity of our elections is good, some of our counties, mostly the smaller counties, have a difficult time complying with the 45-day period," Buescher clarified. "So they may be mailing out the ballots 40 days -- but if you look at the 40 days, and add the 8 days that our state adds on to count ballots after the general election date of November 2, we're actually giving more days for our military than is required by the Move Act."
Eversole remains unimpressed:
"We've got to find a better excuse or reason not to comply with the Move Act than the fact that it takes 15 days to print ballots," Eversole said. "Walk down to Kinkos, put it in the copier, print them, and get them to troops so they have time to vote."
From what we can tell, the Fox segment didn't address the issue of on-line voting, which could solve the problem, once and for all. Arizona implemented an internet-based system for residents living overseas in 2008, using 128-bit encryption, the same level of security used for on-line banking and credit card transactions. The state also allows expatriates to fax in their ballots.
Unfortunately, the Pentagon has been dragging its feet on some sort of universal standard that would allow on-line voting by all military members (and their dependents) living overseas. DoD says it is worried about security, but the Arizona experiment proves that obstacle can be overcome; at least 7,000 state residents voted on-line in 2008, and there were no reported problems with security.
At the state and local level, delays in fully implementing the MOVE Act are more about politics. Most of the states requesting waivers are either Democrat strongholds, or have been leaning that way in recent elections. So, there's a powerful incentive to suppress votes among a segment of the electorate that is solidly Republican.
GOP members of the House and Senate have requested information on DOJ's "enforcement" of the MOVE Act, but the department is in no hurry to provide it. What a surprise. Meantime, there's a good chance that Justice will approve waivers for those states that can't comply with the voting law, meaning that more military voters will find themselves disenfranchised this fall.
And don't think those votes don't matter. Al Franken's margin of victory in his Minnesota Senate race two years ago was 312 votes--just six more than the number of military absentee ballots that were rejected by election officials. Eight years earlier, military absentee votes contributed to George W. Bush's razor-thin 572-vote win the Florida, which gave him the presidential election. You may recall that attorneys for the Democratic Party tried to have those ballots rejected.