Politics

Concerns voiced over protection of soldiers’ voting rights

Photo of Caroline May
Caroline May
Political Reporter

As the election season gears up and the races grow more contentious, the aphorism “every vote counts” will become evermore consequential.

Since the Voting Rights Act of 1965, Congress has purportedly worked to guarantee that every eligible American has the right to vote. This has not been the case, however, for our men and women in uniform.

The Election Assistance Commission reports that during the 2008 election, 17,000 American soldiers fighting overseas had their votes thrown out. According to J. Christian Adams, a former attorney for the Department of Justice’s Voting Rights Division, that year only an estimated 17% of deployed troops actually had their votes counted.

Election officials failed to count the remaining 83% because either the soldier never received a ballot, sent it in too late, never requested a ballot, lost the ballot in the mail, or did not complete the paperwork sufficiently. Adams also points to unwieldy voting regulations as another reason so few deployed military personnel had a voice in the last election. For example, the Minnesota requirement that the county notary notarize the ballot in order for it to count. “A soldier in a fox hole in Afghanistan is not going to have his county’s notary nearby,” Adams noted.

In October 2009, President Barack Obama signed the Military Overseas Voter Empowerment (MOVE) Act — a piece of legislation which aimed to ensure troops overseas have their votes counted — into law. Most significantly, the law eliminates such obstacles as the aforementioned Minnesota rule and requires states to dispatch absentee ballots to soldiers overseas 45 days before an election to ensure that they have enough time to receive, complete and return their votes. A point of contention with the new law, however, is a provision which allows states to request a waiver to exempt them from certain requirements in the event of “hardship.”

Prior to the MOVE Act, the government had no set number of days required for states to send out absentee ballots. Bureaucrats at the Department of Justice interpreted “reasonable” time to mean 30 days. This interpretation prevailed despite the fact that the Military Postal Service Agency said 60 days would be a far more accurate amount of time. Indeed, according to the Election Assistance Commission, in 2008, 43.7 % of rejected ballots were not counted because they missed the deadline, an outcome which might have been averted with a longer lead-time.

Captain (Ret.) Samuel Wright, Director of the Service Members Law Center for the Reserve Officers Association, explained the practical implications of this to The Daily Caller. “It’s not a huge leap to say that if it takes 20 days for the ballot to get to you in Afghanistan and it takes twenty days to get back and they don’t mail the ballot until 25 days before the election, that your right to vote has been violated.”

Though the MOVE Act goes into effect this coming election cycle, some have raised concerns that the Department of Justice will not be especially focused on enforcing the new law. Adams says that this concern comes down to bureaucratic inertia. “The people who are overseeing this have been in charge for a long time. And they were arguing, despite all the evidence to the contrary, that only 30 days was necessary for a ballot transmit to go out and come back…The fruits of that argument was 17,000 canceled votes,” he said.

  • Pingback: We Will Not Surrender − Is MOVE going to help?

  • truebearing

    Next election Obama will be deleting votes like an AOL subscriber does spam. He will do anything, and everything, to deny American’s votes that don’t happen to be for him, and none of his efforts to block votes are more reprehensible than the blocking of votes from our guys overseas.

  • joycemccloy

    If you want to help military and overseas voters have their ballot counted, please learn what really is happening. Yes, the US has a history of not doing enough for military voters. Alot has changed to remedy that in the last 2 years!

    The MOVE Act was passed in 2009. Ever effort is being made to fully enact that. The DOJ has NOT granted any wavers yet to allow a state an exception from enacting the MOVE act, and some states have changed their election seasons to accommodate the MOVE act already.

    Here is the Department of Justice Letter to Sen Coryn regarding Move Act Enforcement dated 7/30/201
    “As of this writing, no waiver request decisions have been issued for
    the November 2010 general election…The Department is fully prepared to file suit against states that do not come into compliance,to be eligible for a waiver, states must submit a waiver application in accordance with the MOVE Act requirements…”

    OVERSEAS VOTE FOUNDATION PRESIDENT RESPONDS TO FOX NEWS REPORT ON MOVE ACT
    …This article leads one to believe that many states are asking for waivers — which is not true. OVF is polling the states right now on this question, and we have been impressed by the broad compliance. Relatively few states have even requested waivers (to our knowledge, only 6).

    In our view at OVF, the states’ implementation of MOVE is a huge success story. Many states rapidly passed new legislation to support it. Others have moved forward with implementation regardless of delays in enacting needed legislative reforms.

    When I spoke with the FOX writer, Jana Winter, she had not spoken to any of the Secretaries of State– which I encouraged her to do. I also pointed out that DOJ can be viewed as treating waivers very cautiously, not wanting to encourage state officials to apply without strong reasons. For instance, those states that hold fall primaries only a few weeks from the general election face insurmountable barriers to implementing parts of MOVE this year. The ballots cannot be designed and sent out within the statutorily required time periods because the primary winners are not known in time. These states will have to redesign their federal primary election calendars to satisfy MOVE in coming years. Some, like Vermont and Minnesota, for example, have already moved their primaries.

    FINALLY, the Department of Defense agreed to help military voters register to vote, update registration and cast ballots. This first time ever.
    See this Department of Defense Press Release dated January 8, 2010:

    The DoD’s Federal Voting Assistance Program (FVAP) kicked off its training program geared to help voting assistance officers at military bases worldwide at a 2010 Election Year press conference Jan. 7.
    “Thousands of voting assistance officers will help an estimated 6 million uniformed and overseas citizens vote absentee.DoD and DoS directives require a voting assistance officer at the unit level and at every embassy and consulate to facilitate this effort.”

    If you really want to help our troops vote, tell them what I am telling you now. For assistance in registering or getting a ballot, military/UOCAVA voters should visit the Overseas Vote Foundation for help.

  • fourleafclover

    Obama and Holder will do anything to keep our troops from voting. They love heathens, illegal aliens and convicts who they think will vote for them. They don’t have it in their hearts to support our troops. Obama is the biggest coward we have ever had as president except Carter. Two years and four months or 882 days or 126 weeks or 21,168 hours or 1,270,080 minutes or 76,204,800 seconds to put up with these losers. Seems like a long time.

    What’s with Minnesota? They require a notary republic to certify a vote for a soldier overseas then send mental retard Franken to the senate. Incredible!

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Bruce-Jacobs/554922273 Bruce Jacobs

    It’s truly disgusting that the folks who protect the U.S. and want to vote one way or another, these people have little voice in elections due to faulty laws. As pointed out, if it takes 20 days each way, and a ballot comes in to the individual in 25 days, his/her vote will not be counted. And to further enhance this stupidity, the troops don’t sit in their mail rooms waiting for the ballots. They are out fighting for people who don’t respect their situation. For the upcoming elections for Nov, the ballots should be mailed NOW. It’s totally unfair to expect a person coming in off patrol to have to sit down and cast a ballot. But then, who cares? These are people that are “Out of sight, out of mind”. What a hellova attitude!!

  • nc28105rp

    What can be done? Any other way to submit votes?

  • erick1740

    The dems want to supress the military vote. No one in the military votes for liberals.

  • J Baustian

    It is truly sad that an illegal immigrant or a convicted felon has a better chance of casting a vote and having it count than a servicemember deployed overseas.