Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Disenfranchised Over There (2010 Edition)

For years. we've been chronicling the systematic disenfranchisement of U.S. military members (and their families), attempting to vote by absentee ballot. By various estimates, armed forces personnel and their dependents are more likely than any other group to have their votes negated by absentee ballots that arrive too late or can't be returned in time to meet state election laws.

So, why should 2010 be any different? It wasn't, according to Hans A. von Spakovsky, writing at NationalReview.com:

Members of the U.S. military and their families who were stationed overseas during the 2010 elections were disfranchised at an alarmingly high rate, according to a new report released today by the Military Voter Protection Project.

MVPP surveyed 24 states. Of the 2 million military voters covered by the report, 15.8 percent requested absentee ballots, but only 4.6 percent cast absentee ballots that were counted. This is at least partly due to the difficulty and uncertainty of the process. Both numbers were below the 2006 midterm election figures, when 5.5 percent of military and overseas voters cast absentee ballots that were counted.

MVPP also found that local election officials in 14 states and the District of Columbia failed to comply with the federal requirement that all absentee ballots must be mailed at least 45 days prior to the election. That requirement, imposed by the 2009 Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment Act (MOVE Act), was intended to ensure that voters had enough time to receive and mail back a ballot, given the long transit times for overseas mail, particularly in war zones. These failures affected more than 65,000 voters.

Most of the states did a good job counting the ballots they actually got back — the overall acceptance rate was more than 94 percent. However, there was one glaring and shameful exception: The state of New York rejected nearly one-third of all absentee ballots from military voters. Based on a combined estimate of military members who voted in person in the U.S. as well as overseas voters, MVPP concluded that the overall turnout rate of military voters was 11.6 percent. Since the turnout rate of all voters was 41.6 percent in the 2010 election, this means that military voters were 3.5 times less likely to vote than other voting-age citizens.

This is simply shameful. The very Americans who ensure our right to vote are the very ones most likely to be disenfranchised. And while some military members are apolitical, others have grown tired of the tricks and simply given up on the idea of absentee voting. It's also worth noting that many of the problems occurred in the blue states with close elections (Illinois comes to mind) a few red states--including Alaska--asked for waivers as well.

As detailed in the MVPP report, the Obama Justice Department only added to the confusion, ignoring requests for guidance on the waivers from DoD, while telling the state of Maryland that it could avoid a waiver by simply mailing out a ballot for federal races. A federal judge eventually overruled the Maryland opinion, but it was still a scramble to get a complete ballot to military personnel from the state who were serving overseas.

Assessing data from last year's election, MVPP analysts believe 2010 represented a step backward for military voters--and it's hard to disagree:

On the individual state level, as set forth in Appendix A, the percentage of military voters
whose absentee ballots were counted ranged from 1.3 percent in North Carolina, where
only 8,323 of 111,550 eligible military voters had an absentee ballot that counted, to 15.7
percent in Washington. In total, 18 of the 24 states had military absentee voting participation
rates that fell below 5 percent. Nine states had a participation rate below 3 percent.

While the 2010 survey data does not include military members who voted in person (with
two exceptions discussed below), that percentage has been relatively small in the past. In 2006 for example, only 7 percent of military members voted in person. If a similar percentage voted in person in 2010, the total military voter participation rate for 2010 would have been 11.6 percent.

The Heritage Foundation will hold a conference on this matter July 19th in Washington. In attendance will be Admiral Edmund Giambastiani, Jr., a former Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. His comments should prove illuminating, though he never said much about the issue while serving in the Pentagon. Indeed, DoD has never paid more than lip service to the issue, afraid of running afoul of Democrats in Congress and the White House.

Indeed, the military voting problem is referred to as "disenfranchisment" and not something more descriptive like "suppression." Yet, as the MVPP research team notes, how would we describe a system that produced similar voting totals among members of a minority group. Rest assured, it wouldn't be referred to as "disenfranchisement," and DOJ lawyers would already be in court, standing up for the victims.


Vigilis said...

"Of the 2 million military voters covered by the report, 15.8 percent requested absentee ballots,..."

The low request rate itself is dismaying. True, overseas military voters are more stressed than usual, but what has happened to leadership? Have lectures on voting as a patriotic duty now become passé, or are leaders not getting it done any longer?

Obviously, if more interest in voting were being demonstrated by the troops stateside politicians would be more inclined to guarantee our most sacred right. Just a thought.

fmfnavydoc said...

Think of it like this - you unit/AFN have all of this info about voting absentee (the unit voting officer treats the duty as a inconvenience more often than not)and yet less than 16% request a ballot. Then you have some states (IL, CA, WA, NY, etc...) that seem to have problems in getting absentee ballots out in time for elections, have issues with them being returned in time, or how the ballot was filled out - disenfranchising the voter even more.

Why should an active duty person vote when the system finds the smallest reason to invalidate their ballots?