The problems with military voting in the 2012 elections continue to mount. There’s not much good news to report on this front, as it’s likely this year’s election will mark a historic low for military voter participation.
We’ve covered the sterling work that the Military Voter Protection (MVP) Project has done to focus on the shortcomings of the absentee ballot system for service personnel located around the world. Those shortcomings have resulted in significant drops in participation by military voters—as much as 70 percent in some states, according to one recent MVP project report.
With such a dismal outlook, I suppose we should be pleased that the Obama administration is even making a cursory effort to protect military voting rights, because it appears that a cursory effort is all we’re going to get.
First, earlier this week, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta directed military officials to report back to him as to whether Voting Assistance Offices (VAO) on military installations are appropriately staffed. This was in response to an Inspector General (IG) report issued in August revealing that nearly half the VAOs the IG attempted to contact were non-responsive.
Panetta’s directive went out on October 16, with officials tasked to respond by today, October 19. Why the secretary didn’t demand this action two months ago, rather than waiting until a few weeks before the election, is a puzzle.
Meanwhile, the Department of Justice (DOJ) is taking steps to hold states accountable for failures in implementing the 2009 Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment (MOVE) Act. Last week, DOJ filed suit against the state of Vermont for failures to comply with the 2009 law; other states may follow.
Vermont missed the Sept. 22 deadline, failing to send more than 20 percent of the absentee ballots requested by the state’s military and overseas voters for the Nov. 6 election, according to a statement by Justice Department. DOJ is seeking an order that the state extend its deadline for returned ballots to Nov. 16 for affected voters and take all necessary steps to prevent future violations.
But Vermont is far from the only state to have failed to meet required deadlines. The House Armed Services Committee last week sent a letter of inquiry to the Defense and Justice departments, expressing concern that Wisconsin, Mississippi and Michigan had also not met the deadline.
While it’s good to see these efforts to bring some accountability to bear among military voting administrators, it’s probably too little, too late—it would have been preferable for the administration to address these shortcomings sooner. With just over two weeks until Election Day, it’s increasingly unlikely that troubles with absentee ballot distribution and collection at the state and local levels will be resolved in time to make a difference in this year’s election.
Regardless of what happens in November, Congress and the executive branch need to make fixing military voting a priority—before another election comes and goes with our service personnel’s voices having been effectively silenced.
In the meantime, time is growing tight for military voters who have not yet cast a ballot. If you are a member of the armed forces and are experiencing difficulty, visit the MVP Project’s Heroes Vote site for assistance.