As our country experienced a roller-coaster ride during this election, there was something else on the minds of some folks other than the potential for voter fraud and ID issues. Do the votes of our deployed military service members count, and do they even have a chance to vote?
While some government agencies like the Dept. of Defense, Homeland Security and the Dept. of Justice should be nonpartisan and apolitical; our military members are generally expected to be discreet as well when it comes to politics. There are thousands of military members stationed or deployed at bases around the world, yet in some bases there are few if any ways in which our service members can participate in the voting process or even have access to election information or coverage. For instance, on one base with over 15,000 service people, there is very little talk or promotion of voting. They’re of course told they need to vote, but election coverage is not provided and their sources of information are severely limited.
The main source for voting comes through the Federal Voting Assistance Program or FVAP, which is a government site for military, military families and civilians serving or stationed overseas. There is a lot of information about finding and using correct forms and voting assistance, but virtually nothing on candidates or elections. One page states, “Use media outlets to encourage people to vote using their State ballot or the backup FWAB.” Which is helpful, but on some bases, media access is limited or in some cases nonexistent or blacked out.
Specific networks such as American Forces Network, AFN Europe or AFN Pacific, don’t have any information about US Elections. Looking through their search engines to find any campaign information, you can find plenty of back articles about both Iraq and Afghanistan elections, but nothing on US Candidates or election news.
I brought this question up to a few military folks & veterans I know, all said virtually the same things, no matter which branch they serve or served. One U.S. Navy veteran friend told me,
“It was definitely difficult while active duty. I did mail in ballots but was in the dark as to many of the candidates. I also wasn’t very politically active at the time… But the normal method of vetting candidates was completely lost to us; we had to rely on snail mail sometimes which is pretty slow especially when doing maneuvers in war times… This is a great subject and a big deal and needs to be addressed…”
He talked a little about past elections in which Military votes had not been counted, active duty members not getting their ballots in time and their votes being suppressed. I remembered hearing stories about these issues in the past and decided to check them out.
Remember back in 2012 when Obama for America, the DNC and Ohio Democratic Party sued Ohio’s Secretary of State and Attorney General? New laws had been passed where in-person early voting was no longer allowed within three days of elections but people using the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voter Act (“UOCAVA”) were still allowed to vote early in-person at a board of elections offices up through the Monday before Election Day. Democrats claimed that they were trying to level the playing field to allow Ohioans to still be allowed to vote early as the Military were still allowed to do, calling concessions to military voters “arbitrary” and having “no discernible rational basis.”
An article about this by WorldNetDaily recounted statistics of previous elections in which military members’ votes did not count and reported about one of the lawyers defending the Ohio case who pointed out that history has never been on the side of our military when it comes to their votes.
“Unfortunately, throughout history military personnel have been prevented from … [exercising their right to the franchise] due to both procedural and logistic hurdles, resulting in their franchise being effectively ‘hollow.’… Dating as far back as the Civil War, President Lincoln issued an executive order declaring a cessation of military operations in order to allow military personnel to travel home so that they could cast their ballots. In order to make sure that those serving in the Civil War had access to the franchise, many states authorized elections officials to travel to units in the field to set up polling locations and to collect ballots from soldiers.”
There have been real cases where our military’s votes have been either not counted, ballots getting to our deployed early enough, votes coming back too late to be counted, or they haven’t voted at all.
In 2009 Congress passed a bill which would require State and local election officials had to send absentee ballots to military voters at least 45 days before an election, yet in 2010, local election officials in at least 14 states failed to comply. Counties and boroughs in New York and Illinois missed the deadline by more than two weeks. More than 40,000 military and overseas ballots were sent only 25 days before the election. In 2012, Alabama, Ohio and Wisconsin had failed to mail ballots on time. A Washington Times article goes on to report that the Department of Justice and its Voting Section were largely to blame.
In 2012, Ret. USMC Gunnery Sergeant Jessie Jane Duff of Concerned Veterans for America discussed how things were when she was stationed overseas and a 2009 law called the Move Act. In an interview on C-SPAN, Duff said she testified before a Congressional Armed Services Committee in which she explained how difficult it was to be able to register, and how she offered modification ideas. Unfortunately after three year of the Move Act, “the Inspector General went out to do research to find out what was available and he could only find half of all the 299 bases, overseas bases, not even state side, they did not have voter assistance.”
In the case of our military voters, especially those who are deployed in times of war, it’s difficult to even think about elections or find time to fill out ballot forms.
A friend remarked that he was able to vote early in his home state before leaving for Afghanistan. He never used the FVAP, and while in Afghanistan, they were encouraged to vote, and had absentee ballot request forms, but were usually too busy and didn’t have time to think about it. Even Officers worked 70 plus hours with one day off, on which they may have talked about candidates, either during mess, or not until after the votes already were in.
Face it; with the hours and intensity of being deployed, especially in combat, there are more important things to worry about than who’s running for school board or which state amendment means what.
According to some folks who have been deployed in the past few years, ballots not getting back in time happens a lot. “The mail to/from the states is slow. Don’t know why USPS was so slow with mail – an Amazon package could there in a week. But U.S. mail, forget about it.”
It seems as if those who want to vote are encouraged to, but are not given enough time or information tools to cast an informed decision. Men and women, who defend our Constitution and our rights especially, should have the right to vote for those they believe would be their voices in the government they serve and protect. They should have the tools, resources, and especially the time and means for their votes to count.