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Suppressing the military vote

Suppressing the military vote

The Obama Justice Department ignored voter intimidation by the New Black Panther Party in Philadelphia but sued Texas and threatened other states who require photo I.D. to vote, alleging that such a requirement amounted to voter suppression.

In Florida, Governor Rick Scott ordered a review of state voting rolls which revealed over 80,000 dead people and hundreds of felons and non-citizens listed as voters. Since Bush won Florida with a handful of votes in 2000, the potential for fraud this year supported the need for I.D. to vote.

In the voter fraud versus voter suppression debate, the biggest suppression of the vote, and the most scandalous, has gone virtually unnoticed.

Deployed members of the American military have the most difficulty getting absentee ballots and casting their vote on time than any other group of Americans.

According to the Military Voters Protection Project (MVPP), only 20 percent of the 2.5 million military voters were able to request and return their absentee ballots on time in the 2008 election.

In response, in 2009, Congress passed the Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment Act (MOVE). MOVE requires states to mail absentee ballots at least 45 days before an election; use electronic delivery systems where possible; and require express mail delivery for returning absentee ballots.

The MOVE Act passed with just 75 days left before the 2010 election. The results were even worse. Just 5 percent of military voters returned their ballots on time to be counted.

According to testimony by Thomas Perez, assistant Attorney General for civil rights at the Justice Department, one third of overseas troops who wanted to vote in 2010 couldn’t.

To be sure, voting from a war zone may not be the easiest thing to do nor the highest priority. But for those warriors who want to vote, and who are putting their lives on the line to defend the right to vote, it is inexcusable that ballots are sent to the wrong addresses, lost in the mail, or sent too late to be sent back by election day.

This close to election 2012, implementation of the MOVE Act is still spotty among the states.

According to MVPP, 15 states, including Alaska, Florida, North Carolina, and Washington, have fully implemented MOVE.

Washington state, for example, allows 20 days leeway after an election and before the results are certified for military ballots to be received. This gives military ballots 65 days, not 45, to be returned.

MVPP identifies Alabama, California, Illinois, New York, and Wisconsin as doing the worst job in complying with the MOVE Act.

California law requires mail ballots to go out 60 days before an election. However, for the June 5 primary election, 11 of 58 California counties failed to comply with the law and the ballots were mailed late resulting in military absentee ballots which were cast but not counted because they were received too late.

Overall, 90 percent of absentee ballots sent to American civilians living abroad are returned and counted. For military personnel, the number is two thirds. Rep. Dan Lundgren (R-Calif.) chair of the House Administration Committee thinks the states and the Justice Department ought to do better.

The Army Times reports that part of the solution could be e-mail.

Florida allows overseas absentee ballots to be returned by fax, but not e-mail. Committee member Rep. Zoe Lofgren D-CA says e-mail is not secure, citing the successful hacking in a test of a proposed Washington D.C. online voting system.

In dozens of other states, election officials are proposing to extend the time when military absentee votes can be counted for some days beyond election day.

Obama’s DOJ has become involved since surveys showed that the traditional Republican advantage with military voters could be changing.

The New York Times reports that while military voters gave George Bush a 16 point advantage over John Kerry in 2004, and gave John McCain a ten point lead over Barack Obama in 2008, Obama has targeted military voters in 2012.

Obama talks up the end of the war in Iraq and the drawdown in Afghanistan, the killing of Bin Laden, and the repeal of don’t ask, don’t tell, coupled with the growing diversity of the military to raise expectations for the 2012 vote.

The Romney campaign scoffs at such talk, pointing out the high unemployment numbers for ex-service members and huge defense cuts as reasons that the military vote will remain Republican.

Whatever the result of the military vote in November, efforts continue in each state to make sure that those troops who want to vote get their vote counted.

There is a Federal Voting Assistance Program with a website (fvap.gov) dedicated to helping military members and their families to vote.

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