Pentagon mum on results of military voting review

A week after a review of military voting assistance offices landed on Defense Secretary Leon Panetta’s desk, the Pentagon is still silent about the review’s findings.

Panetta ordered the review of the offices’ staffing in response to a firestorm of press about low military absentee ballot requests and an Aug. 31 Inspector General’s report showing that half of the 221 congressionally mandated voting assistance offices on military bases could not be reached by telephone or email during a prime season for voter registration and preparation.

The review, due Oct. 19, made it to Panetta on time, DoD spokeswoman Cynthia Smith told Human Events, but she had not other information about it.

“The report was submitted to (Panetta),” she said. “I don’t know if I can release the report yet.”

It’s not clear when that information will be public.

Meanwhile, a late information push by the Pentagon about voting has resulted in a pick-up of absentee ballot requests, said officials with the Military Voter Protection Project, though they wonder if the push comes just too late.

“What I’ve seen is that the secretary’s personal involvement has started to yield some increases,” project executive director Eric Eversole said. “We’ve certainly seen and appreciate his personal involvement in this issue and it is making a difference.”

The Virginian-Pilot reports this week that 9,852 military voter absentee ballots have been requested this year in the state, which is a huge jump from the 1,746 requests the state had in August, but far shy of the 20,738 that ballots that were requested in 2008.

Pete Hegseth, the Chief Executive Officer of the nonprofit organization Concerned Veterans for America, said anecdotes from troops and military families he has met during a pre-election bus tour corroborate reports that troops haven’t been kept well informed about voting this election cycle.

“There hasn’t been an emphasis and a priority on fixing this, so it hasn’t happened,” he said.

Hegseth, a captain in the Army National Guard, said he has also experienced the late information push in the armed services, getting a recent barrage of Army-wide emails in his inbox encouraging soldiers to register to vote or apply for absentee ballots.
Hegseth said the lack of dearth of information or advocacy for voting in the military is a reflection of priorities.

While deployed to Afghanistan last year, he said, his unit received a brief on the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell “almost immediately.”

“I’ve never gotten a brief on military voting,” he said.

In the short term, Eversole and the Military Voter Protection Project are encouraging troops to register and vote with the same form, the Federal Write In Absentee Ballot, saying they expect to many of these votes employed in military-heavy swing states like Virginia and North Carolina.

In the long-term, Hegseth said it’s clear, after Congress authorized $75 million for military voting assistance following low troop turnout in the 2008 election, that no amount of money is going to improve the picture.

“The only thing that’s going to fix this problem is leadership,” he said.