Suppressing the Military Vote

Many decry any attempt to suppress legal voters from voting legally. John Fund and Hans Von Spakovsky in their book “Who’s Counting: How Fraudsters and Bureaucrats Put Your Vote At Risk” found one group that is being supressed – active duty military voters. The Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act (UOCAVA), requires the Federal Voting Assistance Program (a Department of Defense Program) to administer UOCAVA, and requires the Justice Department to enforce it.

According to Fund and Spakovsky there are two primary reasons for military voter disenfranchisement. The first is the “transitory life of a member of the military and delays associated with delivering absentee ballots to remote locations”. The second is “[T]he Pentagon’s failure to provide military voters with timely registration and voting assistance, and the Justice Department’s failure to properly enforce the 1986 federal law guaranteeing the right of overseas civilians and members of the military to vote by absentee ballot”. [My emphasis]

Fund and Spakovsky report:

  • The estimated military voter turn out in 2008 was approximately 30 percent while the overall voting-eligible population turn out was almost 62 percent.
  • In 2006, only 22 percent of nearly 2.6 million military voters cast ballots, compared to 41 percent of the general voting-age population.
  • The Election Assistance Commission found that only 16.5 percent of an estimated six million eligible military and overseas civilian voters requested an absentee ballot, and only 5.5 percent of the ballots were returned and counted.
  • Data from 24 states on the 2010 election shows that only 4.6 percent of eligible military voters cast an absentee ballot that was actually counted.

According to Sarasota County Florida Supervisor Kathy Dent, “States transmitted nearly 1 million ballots to UOCAVA-covered voters (48.6% to military and 37.9% to civilian overseas). Of the ballots transmitted 69% (682,341) were returned and submitted for counting. States reported counting 637,216 UOCAVA ballots or 93.6% of the total submitted for counting. Supervisor Dent notes, “We won’t have information on 2012 General election until January/February 2013.”

Getting absentee ballots to the military and returning them to the states is critical to having them counted. Fund and Spakovsky state, “One of the most significant problems with UOCAVA is that it does not specify when states are required to mail absentee ballots”.

The Election Assistance Commission and others have found that overseas military and civilians absentee ballots must be sent out “at least 45 days before a state’s deadline.” Fund and Spakovsky report, “The Pentagon is required to use expedited mail service to ensure overseas military ballots are returned by Election Day.” However, “due to pressure from its unions, the U.S. Postal Service was made the exclusive carrier for this expedited mail service, rather than allowing competitive bids from private carriers such as Federal Express or DHL . . . Yet nearly one-third of states refuse to follow the 45-day standard, and at least 10 states gave military voters less than 35 days to receive, cast, and return their ballots,” state Fund and Spakovsky.

Florida Statue Section 101.62 requires all UOCAVA absentee ballots to be mailed not later than 45 days prior to an election. If the mailing date falls on a holiday or weekend then the absentee ballots are mailed the prior business day.

An inquiry was sent to Kathy Dent, Sarasota County Supervisor of Elections. Suzanne MacFarlane, Absentee Ballot Coordinator for the Sarasota County Supervisor of Elections, reports that in Florida during the 2008 General election:

Total UOCAVA absentee ballots transmitted was 121,395 (Military Stateside & Overseas & Citizens Overseas)

Total UOCAVA absentee ballots transmitted to Uniformed Services only was 86,926.

Total UOCAVA absentee ballots returned and counted for Uniformed Services was 66,007 (54%).

The high rates of return and counted ballots may be attributed to the Florida statue requiring mailing not later than 45 days prior to the election.

In 2009 Congress amended UOCAVA requiring states to send absentee ballots to military voters at least 45 days before elections. The Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment Act (MOVE) also required the Pentagon to create installation voting assistance offices on every military base. Florida is home to 21 military bases. The Military Voter Protection Project (MVPP) found in the 2010 election, “[A]t least 14 states and the District of Columbia failed  to comply with the 45-day mailing requirement.” Fund and Spakovsky notes one “troubling provision” of the MOVE Act, which allows states to obtain a one time waiver. Ten states and the District of Columbia applied for the waiver in 2010. One of the states applying was New York. “Many of New York City’s military and overseas ballots, more than 40,000 of them, were sent 25 or fewer days before the election,” note Fund and Spakovsky.

Many of the problems with military absentee votes would have been avoided had the Justice Department enforced UOCAVA and MOVE. MVPP found that the overall military participation rate during the 2010 elections was 11.6 percent. Military personnel were 3.5 times less likely to vote than other voting-age citizens. According to Eric Eversole, Executive Director of MVPP, stated “Justice delayed is justice denied” when it comes to the military absentee vote.


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