As of today, voting registration deadlines in 18 states and territories have passed, and military absentee ballot requests remain at a worryingly low level compared with past election years.
According to the most recent data, released Sept. 22, Florida has sent 65,173, compared to the just over 95,000 it counted four years ago. Virginia has sent out 12,292 military and overseas absentee ballots, less than 43 percent of the 28,816 it counted in 2008.
‚??It doesn‚??t take much to figure out that it will be difficult to meet the 2008 participation levels, even if every single ballot is returned and counted,‚?Ě Military Voter Protection Project Executive Director Eric Eversole told Human Events.
Eversole said he was encouraged by a short message Defense Secretary Leon Panetta issued from the Pentagon Oct. 4, reminding troops of the importance of voting. But he worries it‚??s too little, too late.
‚??It‚??s important when the defense secretary emphasizes the importance of voting; it carries a lot of weight with our service members,‚?Ě Eversole said. ‚??What‚??s disappointing about that is it‚??s issued 35, 30 days before the election.‚?Ě
It‚??s clear that the Pentagon has been feeling the pressure from recent news reports, including a story by Human Events, about low military voter participation. In a media briefing delivered in early October, Pentagon spokesman George Little highlighted the work of the Federal Voting Assistance Program, noting that more than 500,000 troops have been assisted in some way during the first six months of this year alone.
But a troubling report released earlier this year by the Defense Department Inspector General showed that half of the more than 200 voting assistance offices attached to military installations were unreachable by phone or email, and Eversole said the results in participation still show that some part of the message is not getting through to the troops.
With little time left before the election, he is encouraging service members to vote with the Federal Write-In Absentee Ballot, which allows troops to register and vote for federal offices with the same form. For most states with postmark deadlines, the ballots must be in the mail by Nov. 5 or 6.
In most states, troops can still request a ballot until the end of October. Eversole said he is still hopeful that his organization‚??s information campaign can boost participation numbers and remind troops of their importance in the process.
‚??I think the attention has helped us significantly,‚?Ě he said. ‚??We‚??re going to continue pushing as much as we can. We‚??re not fully there yet.‚?Ě