Top staff members for U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, Texas Republican, were stonewalled when they met yesterday with officials at the Department of Justice to follow up on concerns that Sen. Cornyn has expressed about whether the department is doing all it can to ensure that military personnel abroad can vote. Sen. Cornyn was one of two authors last year of a law that passed that requires states to mail ballots to overseas military voters (and associated civilians abroad) at least 45 days before the federal general elections. As reported and updated several times here at the Washington Times, the law allows a very narrow exception to the 45-day deadline if states’ primaries are so late that it is literally impossible to get the ballots off in time — but even then, the states must request a “waiver” AND must outline exactly how they will GUARANTEE that the soldiers, sailors, etc., will still be able to get their votes counted if they put in requests for ballots in a timely fashion. The problem is that various reports say that Justice has been encouraging states to file waiver applications and interpreting the law as if the waiver possibilities are broad rather than narrow. Official Rebecca Wertz told the National Association of Secretaries of State on Feb. 1, for example, that there was substantial ambiguity in the waiver requirements. In other words, the focus has been on how states can avoid the 45-day deadline for mailing the ballots, not comply with it. Or at least that is the allegation against the Obama Justice Department.
Enter Sen. Cornyn. He has taken various steps to pressure Justice to fully enforce the law, and has asked for four concrete signs of Justice’s own compliance with the law. Hence yesterday’s meeting.
But Justice stiffed Cornyn’s staff on all counts. While still insisting that the Department is fully committed to ensuring military voting rights, the officials utterly refused to provide proof thereof. The two most important area of stonewalling were:
1) Cornyn had asked for a state-by-state list of which states are actually, right now, in compliance with the law. Justice refused to provide it.
2) Cornyn demanded, quite reasonably, that Justice provide official, concrete guidance to states to explain EXACTLY what is required to comply with the law and what is required if the states’ primaries literally are so late as to make it impossible to mail the ballots 45 days before the election. Instead, not only has Justice not provided any more specific guidelines since the controversy first broke a few weeks ago, but it won’t even provide Sen. Cornyn’s staff with copies of letters it mailed to states back in April — letters that supposedly issued at least general, if not highly specific, guidance to the state election officials.
In other words, the Justice Department very politely told Sen. Cornyn, a duly elected senator and the author of the law, to go to Hades.
Sen. Cornyn, for his part, is continuing his official legislative “hold” on the nomination of James Cole to be deputy attorney general, the second highest position (just under Attorney General Eric Holder) in the department. Mr. Cole is reported to be a good friend of Mr. Holder’s.
This issue continues to be red hot, and new developments are expected.