- The Washington Times - Friday, November 24, 2000

I was just 19 when I arrived in Vietnam; the average age of Americans who served there. Full of conviction, I was anxious to do my part. I was not a draftee. I had enlisted in the Army following a year of college, and then volunteered for Vietnam. For me it was the natural thing to do. I come from a family with a long tradition of military service in time of war. Every adult member of my family, including my mother, who was one of the first women to join the newly organized Women's Auxiliary Army Corps, saw wartime service in uniform.

I brought a lot with me to Vietnam: conviction, a sense of obligation, tradition, and enthusiasm. There was one thing, though, I did not bring the right to vote. Like most of the young men and women, who donned their country's uniform at the time, like most of my comrades, I had not reached the age of majority. We were disenfranchised. At the time, though, we gave the matter little thought. The reality of day-to-day survival was our overwhelming concern.

Back home, however, there was growing recognition of the inherent inequity of asking young men and women to risk their lives while denying them the right to vote. Soon, state legislatures across the nation moved to lower the age of majority to eighteen the same age at which young men were subject to the draft. But for many servicemen and women, myself included, there was another problem.

I had volunteered for a second tour of duty in Vietnam, and turned 21 while serving there. Although I was eligible to vote, my home state, Florida, made it difficult for overseas service members to obtain absentee ballots, so their right to vote was still effectively denied. Indeed, in 1980, the Justice Department sued Florida for violating the 1965 Voting Rights Act over military absentee ballots. Since that time, the rules have been eased, yet, the long struggle to enfranchise military personnel, it appears, is not over.

Put simply, the Democratic Party has launched an all-out assault against military voters. Even before the election, military personnel had heard rumors that such a campaign was planned, but few really believed them. Given the Clinton-Gore administration's track record of disdain for the armed forces, they should perhaps have been granted greater credence.

When reports of systematic challenges to military absentee ballots drew public outrage, Democrats were quick to crank up their spin machine. First they trotted out vice presidential nominee Joe Lieberman to proclaim his party's innocence. When confronted with the reality of an internal memorandum carefully outlining technicalities to use in challenging military absentee ballots they brought out their "big gun" Congressional Medal of Honor winner Bob Kerrey to assert that the charges were "unfair and irresponsible."

Outrageously, even as they planned the campaign against military absentee ballots, Democrats were also aggressively soliciting absentee ballots from inmates in Florida prisons. They claim that they only solicited inmates convicted of misdemeanors. But when a Miami newspaper checked, it discovered that 39 felons including convicted drug dealers, murderers and rapists, filed absentee ballots in Dade County alone. Statewide, there could be thousands. Apparently, to the Gore campaign, the illegal votes of felons are acceptable, as long as they are Democrats, while legal military votes are not.

But that's not all. The latest and most disturbing allegation to surface suggests that the Department of Defense itself may have been used to prevent service members from voting. San Antonio attorney Phillip E. Jones is filing a class action suit on behalf of hundreds of servicemen and women who were prevented from obtaining absentee ballots, or had them intercepted and diverted, many of whom are Florida residents.

Basic trainees at Ft. Lee, Virginia, for example, were told they didn't have time to vote. In another case, whole units were deployed to Bosnia the day before the election, making it impossible for them to either obtain an absentee ballot or vote at a polling place. If true, the allegations constitute an unpardonable breach of faith with our service members a breach of faith perhaps impossible to mend.

Whatever the outcome of the Jones suit, it remains clear that Democrats sought to disenfranchise our armed forces to gain political advantage. There could be no more telling demonstration of their desire to win by any means possible. In the short-term it might succeed. But, memories are long, and this betrayal is one service members and their families will not soon forget.

Milton R. Copulos is a veteran of two tours of duty in Vietnam where he was awarded the Bronze Star and Army Commendation medals.

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