Military Voting Rights at Risk

It’s just 79 days until the mid-term election, and as Republicans hope to change the balance of power in Washington, there is still a serious threat to the voting rights of some of our troops in harm’s way.

This issue was supposed to have been settled. The MOVE (Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment) Act, which was signed into law 10 months ago, was enacted to ensure that the troops serving overseas have 45 days to get in their absentee ballots. The thinking was that it would take that long to receive the proper forms in a warzone and return them to be counted. There is a loophole, however; a state can apply for a waiver if it can prove a specific “undue hardship” in enforcing it.

Before the act was in place, analysis by the federal Election Assistance Commission, estimated overseas and absentee military voting rates for the 2006 midterm elections was a pathetic 5.5 percent. In 2008, about 17,000 servicemen and women were denied the right to vote.

M. Eric Eversole, the executive director of the Military Voter Protection (MVP) Project and former litigation attorney in the Justice Department’s Voting Section, wants to know why military voters are being involuntarily disenfranchised. He and J. Christian Adams accused the Justice Department of encouraging states to use waivers to bypass the MOVE Act.

The accusations prompted Senator John Cornyn (R-Texas) to write a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder, demanding answers and requesting specific information about how the agency was going to enforce the MOVE Act provision.

Assistant Attorney General Ronald Weich responded: “The Department of Justice is firmly committed to ensuring that our men and women serving in the uniformed services and living overseas have the opportunity to vote and to have their votes counted. Any suggestion to the contrary is simply untrue.”

Yet the Obama administration refuses to release the waiver requests filed by a dozen states and territories claiming an inability to meet the legal deadline. Eversole and 17 members of Congress led by Rep. Robert E. Latta (R-Ohio), sought this information through formal requests. By Eversole’s count, nearly one-third of the states have failed to implement one or more of the key provisions of the MOVE Act, with at least 11 states having not yet implemented the 45-day deadline for mailing absentee ballots, and at least five states having not implemented the electronic-delivery requirement under the MOVE Act.

Sen. Cornyn told Fox he doesn’t want to see “foot-dragging at the state level or through federal bureaucracy.” Mainly, he says he just wants answers. “I would be very interested in seeing the reasons documented why they feel like it’s impossible for them to comply,” Sen. Cornyn explained. “That’s the only excuse, if it’s impossible. Not if it’s inconvenient, not if they don’t want to for any host of other reasons.”

Most of the states that requested waivers did so because of time pressures. For example, Rhode Island’s Secretary of State A Ralph Mollis said the date of their primary prohibits The Ocean State from having mail ballots ready 45 days before an election. Maryland and Wisconsin gave similar reasons.

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