Defense Secretary Leon Panetta wants to know if the military's voter assistance offices are working--and he's asking for an immediate answer. More from Air Force Times
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has directed military officials to provide him a report by Oct. 19 verifying that each of the 221 installation voting assistance offices is appropriately staffed to meet the needs of troops.
He gave officials three days to get it done; the memo was issued Oct. 16 to the service secretaries, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness, and chiefs of the combatant commands.
“We must do all we can to ensure that service members know the steps necessary to vote, particularly those service members deployed or based away from home. This issue must be addressed immediately,” he wrote.
Mr. Panetta issued his directive after the DoD Inspector General reported it could not reach about half of the voting assistance offices by phone, despite repeated attempts. Members of Congress have expressed similar concerns.
At first blush, the SecDef's actions seem to be a model of bureaucratic urgency and concern. A three-day suspense for this sort of survey is virtually unheard of along the E-ring. So, a lot of action officers will be burning the midnight oil for the next few days to give Secretary Panetta the information he requested.
But in reality, Mr. Panetta's demand is little more than a farce. The IG report was issued in late August--almost two months ago. Why did the Defense Secretary wait so long to issue that last-minute tasker?
The answer is rather obvious, and rooted in election year politics. As we recently noted, opinion surveys show that Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney will get most of this year's military vote. With most analysts predicting a close election, Democrats are looking for ways to suppress pockets of likely GOP voters, including the military. A few weeks ago, the Obama Administration successfully challenged an Ohio law that would have granted three additional "early voting" days for military members. And earlier this week, the Romney campaign sued several Wisconsin localities when it was learned that military voters from those areas may not receive their absentee ballots in time for next month's election.
So, Mr. Panetta's request is a nice public relations stunt, but it will do little to help armed forces personnel who want to participate in our democratic process. The time for action was weeks ago. We understand the SecDef is a busy man, but why did it take him so long to address the issue? It's also worth asking how much data the defense chief needs to determine the current voter assistance program is broken. The IG report is a rather damning indictment, to say the least.
But the defense chief appears more interested in running out the clock on military voters. Even if the service chiefs (and General Dempsey) meet their suspense--and they will--it will take Mr. Panetta a few more days to review the report and implement corrective action. By that time, it will be too late for military voters to request an absentee ballot and meet state deadlines for returning it.
No wonder military voter participation will likely hit an all-time low this fall. And sadly, few inside the Pentagon seem overly concerned. Military members are the most disenfranchised segment of our electorate, and it's been that way for years. We can only wonder if Mr. Panetta (a fomer Democratic Congressman and White House chief of staff) would be more concerned if most military voters were aligned with his party.