Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Disenfranchising Those Who Serve

We were encouraged by this headline on the CNN website:

"Ballots from U.S. troops risk being discarded."

At last, we thought, a MSM organization was paying attention to one of the most under-reported stories of this--or any other--political year. While many reporters are focusing on the usual voter registration shenanigans (just today, an Ohio judge ruled that the homeless can list park benches as their home address), one segment of the electorate remains largely disenfranchised.

We refer to members of the military (and their families) who vote by absentee ballot. As we've noted in previous posts, many of those service members and their dependents will cast their votes this year, yet two-thirds will go uncounted--an estimate highlighted in the CNN story.

Unfortunately, CNN gets the story half-right. Reporter Carol Costello appears to blame much of the problem on varying state regulations that govern absentee voting. In Virginia, for example, a Democratic registrar in Fairfax County, initially discarded 63 ballots because they did not contain an address for the witness, required under state law.

Never mind that the form, provided by the federal government, did not contain a block for that information. Going by the letter of the law, Democratic officials were apparently prepared to toss out scores of military absentee ballots until Virginia's Republican Attorney General, Bob McDonnell, intervened. He subsequently ruled that county registrars could ignore the witness address requirement, raising hopes that more military votes will be counted.

However, the CNN account largely ignores the larger, political aspect of this problem. At the federal level, Democrats have consistently refused to support legislation that would make it easier for armed forces personnel to cast absentee ballots. Ms. Costello interviewed California Republican Congressman Kevin McCarthy, who is pushing a bill that provide faster return service for overseas ballots.

Under his plan, the Defense Department would guarantee that all absentee ballots be returned by the fastest possible conveyance. That would reduce return times from 3-4 weeks, to as little as four days, ensuring that more military votes are received in time to be counted.

We've discussed the McCarthy bill (at length) in previous posts. CNN reports that his measure won't be passed in time for this election. A more accurate story would read something like this: Congressman McCarthy's bill has languished in committee for months, with virtual no chance of passage.

Ms. Costello also ignored a broken promise by House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, who pledged to support a resolution by Minority Whip Roy Blunt. The Missouri Congressman has offered a resolution calling on the Pentagon to make it easier for military personnel to cast absentee ballots. Without Democratic support, the Blunt measure, like Congressman McCarthy's bill, has no chance of passage.

Why would Democrats oppose efforts to improve military voting programs? CNN does address that issue, but in a roundabout manner, noting the party's efforts to block absentee ballots by members of the armed forces during the 2000 recount in Florida. Many of those votes were from military personnel, who supported George Bush by a wide margin.

Eight years later, in another tight election, the Democrats don't want thousands of Republican absentee ballots to influence the outcome of the presidential race. Consider the impact of another 500,000 votes--more than 65% Republican--and their impact in places like Florida, Pennsylvania and Ohio. The military vote could, quite literally, swing the election.

Give credit to CNN for addressing the gross disenfranchisement of our military personnel. Sadly, their coverage doesn't go nearly far enough.

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