For some reason, only Republicans seem to get angry about the threat of military voters becoming disenfranchised because their ballots get lost in the mail. Republican Senators John Cornyn of Texas, Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, John McCain of Arizona, Rob Portman of Ohio, and Marco Rubio of Florida have written a letter to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta to “express concerns over another serious failure by the Department of Defense to safeguard the voting rights of our overseas military service members, which we believe could result in the imminent disenfranchisement of thousands.”
This is not a surprising new problem. As the Senators explain in their letter, the Military Postal Service Agency is aware of “widespread problems experienced by overseas military voters,” and has made numerous recommendations for correcting them, but the most important of these recommendations have not been addressed. As a result, “a large number of service members are unlikely to receive their ballots in time to vote this year.”
At issue is the “redirection” of absentee ballots sent to service members. Deployed military personnel tend to move around a lot, so it takes a while for ballots from their voting districts to find them. The problem is actually even more pronounced for troops returning home after deployment to Iraq and Afghanistan, as their ballots can flutter around overseas for a while before following them home to the United States. Have you ever worried about mail that should have been forwarded to your new address ending up in the mailbox at your old house instead? Now imagine your previous address is a forward base in Afghanistan.
The United States Postal Service is quite good at re-directing mail, thanks to its sophisticated Postal Automated Redirection System, but the Defense Department has not created anything comparable to handle military mail. “Under the antiquated mail redirection procedures currently used by DoD, the one-way transit time for blank ballots redirected to or from overseas typically ranges from 14 to 50 days, depending on the overseas location and operating conditions,” the Republican senators noted in their letter to Panetta. “The more efficient PARS system would cut the average transit time for redirected ballots to just three days, according to USPS.”
The senators declare themselves “perplexed” that Obama’s Defense Department didn’t update its system to cut down on the 14 to 50-day transit time for blank ballots sent to deployed military personnel. It’s especially perplexing given the fire hose of tax money Obama has been willing to spray on far less worthy endeavors. Perhaps it becomes easier to understand when the voting habits of military voters are taken into account.
At any rate, it’s too late to do anything about the current election (good thing it’s not historic or anything like that!) but the senators asked Panetta to “ensure that DoD moves expeditiously to modernize its system for redirecting blank ballots, so that our service members do not encounter the same roadblocks to voting in the next election cycle.”
Additionally, they requested data on “the specific number of service members who requested absentee ballots for the 2012 general election but have yet to receive them due to delays attributable to DoD???s mail forwarding system.” The number of overseas absentee ballots requested this year is down considerably from 2008, with a 70 percent reduction in the battleground states of Virginia and Ohio cited in an October 1 Fox News report.
Senator Cornyn called this “an unacceptable failure by Pentagon leaders to comply with the law and ensure our service members and their families are able to exercise one of the most fundamental rights for which they sacrifice every day.” The Pentagon explained much of the drop-off by noting that both parties held competitive primary elections in 2008, which inspired an abnormally high number of ballot requests, while 2012 requests are roughly comparable with the 2004 election. However, an October report in the Washington Times said that the Pentagon’s own inspector general’s office found requests for assistance to the voter assistance offices on military bases “failed about 50 percent of the time,” fueling the belief among military voter advocates that not everything has been done to ensure America’s soldiers have proper access to the elections they have sworn their lives to defend.