Saturday, October 23, 2010

One More Day

Military voters in Illinois will have more time to return their absentee ballots.

One more day, to be exact.

Yesterday, officials in six Illinois counties announced that military personnel and other overseas voters will have until election day (November 2nd) to postmark their ballots. Other absentee voters in the state must have their ballots in the mail by November 1st.

Representatives of the six counties--Boone, Hancock, Jersey, Massac, Schulyer and St. Clair--will also extend the November 14th deadline for receiving absentee ballots by another four or five days. That (ostensibly) gives military personnel stationed abroad more time to return their ballots.

At first glance, the revised timetable seems to be an act of generosity. But it's also worth remembering that the six counties mailed out their absentee ballots more than two weeks late, missing the 45-day deadline mandated by the Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment (MOVE) Act. And, the Illinois counties extended their absentee ballot deadlines only after the Department of Justice filed suit in federal court to enforce the mandate. Given DOJ's less-than-enthusiastic enforcement of the MOVE Act, the Illinois case is especially egregious.

That's because the absentee voter problem in Illinois extends well beyond those six counties. According to the Chicago Tribune, 29 additional counties also missed the original, September 14th deadline. However, they will note have to extend their deadlines because state law allows a 14-day cushion after the election to process incoming overseas ballots.

Illinois Democrats have accused Republicans of over-stating the problem. They cite figures from election officials that show less than 2,000 military personnel serving overseas have requested absentee ballots---and many of the counties that were slow in sending them out are controlled by the GOP.

But that's only part of the story. Many of those military members stationed outside the U.S. have a spouse (or other family members) who also vote in Illinois, and have (presumably) requested absentee ballots. Another 5,500 ballots were sent to military personnel from Illinois who serve in other states. So, the military absentee voter pool in the Land of Lincoln is far larger than the 1,800 ballots heading overseas.

So far, there's no data on how many military voters have actually received their ballots. And, there's the more important question of whether they will actually count. It's an understatement to say that some Illinois localities (hellooo, Cook County) have a proud tradition of election chicanery and fraud. With tight races for Senator and Governor, it will be interesting to see how many of those military votes aren't counted next month.

To be fair, the problem is not limited to Illinois. More than a half-dozen states asked for waivers from the MOVE Act's requirements, and there is some evidence that the Obama DOJ actually encouraged those requests. Meanwhile, there are those sobering statistics from recent elections; according to the Washington Times, at least 17,000 military ballots were rejected in 2008, and the estimates from previous election cycles are even higher. Given inconsistent enforcement of the MOVE law (and late ballot mailings in several states), it seems likely that military members will--once again--be the most disenfranchised segment of the American electorate.

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