Thousands of overseas military voters who requested an absentee ballot may not receive one until after the election due to an archaic system, according to five influential members of the Senate.
Sens. John Cornyn (R-Texas), Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.), John McCain (R-Ariz.), Rob Portman (R-Ohio), and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) wrote to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta today, saying delays in sending ballots through the Military Postal Service Agency may rob thousands of service members of the right to have their ballots counted.
‚??Our overseas service members face longstanding obstacles to their participation in elections,‚?Ě the senators wrote. ‚??For decades, one of their greatest hurdles has been actually getting their hands on their blank absentee ballots in a timely manner prior to Election Day.‚?Ě
The military has long struggled to get timely ballots to deployed troops who move frequently in theater, and MPSA has acknowledged the problem, publishing a 2010 after-action report with shocking data: 50 percent of ballots received at military post offices (MPOs) from election offices were undeliverable as addressed and 19 percent were ultimately returned to sender. Of the 68,848 ballots received by the Military Postal Service from election offices, under 28,000 were successfully returned to the states.
To streamline the system, the Federal Voting Assistance Program recommended including military addresses in the U.S. Postal Service‚??s Postal Automated Redirection System, ensuring that troops would have their ballots forwarded to their deployed locations and not stuck in transit.
But that change has not happened, the lawmakers said on Monday.
‚??DoD‚??s failure to fix this longstanding problem means that the blank ballots of thousands of overseas service members, as well as some who have recently returned from overseas, could be currently trapped in an archaic and inefficient mail forwarding system,‚?Ě they wrote. ‚??These ballots are unlikely to reach these service members until after Election Day has passed.‚?Ě
And this year, the stakes could be even higher than they have been in the past, they said, as some 70,000 troops previously deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan have recently returned to the U.S., though their ballots may still be directed to their deployed locations.
‚??We are perplexed as to why DoD did not do everything in its power to modernize the system for redirecting blank ballots in order to eliminate this roadblock for military service members, per the top 2010 recommendations from MPSA,‚?Ě the senators wrote.
They requested that the Defense Department move quickly to update the military system for redirecting ballots and asked Panetta to provide a report tallying the number of troops who requested absentee ballots and have not received them yet.