If you need more evidence that military voting rights are eroding before our eyes, look no further than the Commonwealth of Virginia, where absentee ballot requests by military personnel have dropped an astonishing 70 percent from 2008.
That’s the word from an extensive report in the Virginia Watchdog that focused on data provided by Military Voter Protection (MVP) Project. The report finds that out of more than 126,000 registered military voters in Virginia, a paltry 1,746 have requested absentee ballots. The Watchdog reports:
The dropoff is ironic, considering that Congress passed the Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment Act (MOVE) in 2009 to help highly transient military voters obtain absentee ballots wherever they are stationed.
“The fact is that an incredibly small percentage of military voters are requesting absentee ballots for the 2012 election, even though a majority of military members — roughly two-thirds — will need to vote by absentee ballot,” [Eric Eversole of the MVP Project] said.
Eversole acknowledged that personal responsibility figures into the equation, but he said service members aren’t getting the same voter-assistance and access that civilians receive through motor-vehicle offices and social-service agencies.
“We’re not seeing the same level of emphasis [on military voting] that we saw four years ago,” Eversole told Virginia Watchdog.
It’s not just Virginia: the MVP project notes that military absentee ballot requests are down in Florida (46 percent decrease); North Carolina (59 percent decrease); Alaska (52 percent decrease); and Ohio (70 percent decrease).
Eversole lays the blame on the Federal Voting Assistance Program (FVAP), the Department of Defense (DoD) program responsible for ensuring that military personnel have access to reliable information about their voting rights. But as we’ve seen recently, that information isn’t necessarily reliable—just last week I wrote about the scandal of an FVAP web page for Wisconsin that listed the wrong deadline for returning ballots.
In this Fox News report, a DoD spokesperson defends the department’s performance on military voting rights, arguing that the 2008 numbers were higher because of contested primaries on both the Republican and Democratic sides. That may be true, but it can hardly be expected to account for declines of up to 70 percent. (Moreover, there’s far more at stake than just the White House; we also have heated Senate and House races and any number of state and local offices up for grabs.)
The DoD spokesperson also notes that total voting numbers won’t be available until after the election. Well, yes, obviously. But that smokescreen doesn’t change the fact that far too many of our uniformed service personnel simply will not be voting in the 2012 election—and after the election, there will be little incentive for the FVAP to get its act together. Don’t be surprised when we’re having this same discussion during the 2014 midterm election.
We’ve had plenty of warnings that military voters were on the verge of a massive disenfranchisement. The House Armed Services Committee was so alarmed about the FVAP’s failure to implement MOVE Act provisions that they called the program to account in a hearing last month; meanwhile, the MVP Project has been reporting for months that the outlook for military voting in this election year was “bleak.”
The MVP Project’s forecast is coming true in Virginia, Florida, Alaska, North Carolina and Ohio—and most likely in other states as well. In this year’s election, the voice of military voters and their families, who bear a disproportionately high cost for decisions made in Washington, will go unheard.
Jessie Jane Duff, Gunnery Sergeant, USMC (Ret) is a member of the Concerned Veterans for America’s organizing committee.