EDITORIAL: Holder puts felons over soldiers

The Justice Department obstructs military voting rights

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Obama Justice Department outrages never cease. The politically charged gang led by Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. is more interested in helping felons vote than in helping the military to vote. Sen. John Cornyn, Texas Republican, has put a legislative hold on the already troubled nomination of James M. Cole to be deputy attorney general until the attorney general ensures full protection for voting rights of our military (and associated civilian personnel) stationed abroad. The senator is right to raise a ruckus.

Mr. Cornyn co-authored a 2009 law mandating that states mail absentee ballots to military voters at least 45 days before the election. Yet, as former Justice Department lawyer Eric Eversole first reported in The Washington Times last week, the department seems to be encouraging states to apply for waivers so they won’t have to follow that law. More than 17,000 Americans serving overseas were denied the vote in 2008 - but, presumably because military personnel are thought to lean conservative, the liberal Obama administration is in no hurry to correct the situation.

The Justice Department is so unenthusiastic about military voting that its website still lists the old requirement for a shorter 30-day military voting window, rather than the current law mandating 45 days. On the other hand, the Justice Department has no legislative mandate whatsoever to involve itself with helping felons to vote, but its website devotes a large section - 2,314 words - to advising felons how to regain voting privileges.

As confirmed by The Washington Times last week, Justice Department official Rebecca Wertz told a Feb. 1 conference of the National Association of Secretaries of State that the new law’s requirements are somehow open to interpretation. On July 28, an attendee at that conference - heretofore uninterviewed - told The Washington Times that Ms. Wertz’s message was “totally undermining” the law. The earlier reports actually underplayed the effect of Ms. Wertz’s comments. “It was even more pronounced at the meeting,” said the source. “She undermined [the law] right in front of everybody. When I heard what she was saying, I thought: ‘You’ve got to be kidding!’ … It was a clear reversal of roles for Justice to no longer be enforcing the law.”

After looking at the minutes of that conference, Mr. Cornyn responded forcefully. His office confirmed that he did place the hold on Mr. Cole because of the military voting issue. His July 26 letter to Mr. Holder does not actually mention his hold, but its tone was strong stuff.

“The statute does not create any discretion for the Executive Branch to decide whether or not to enforce its legal requirements,” the senator wrote. Ms. Wertz’s comments “fly in the face of the clear statutory language, undermine the provisions in question and jeopardize the voting rights of our men and women in uniform.”

The senator laid out a series of four steps he wants Mr. Holder to take to ensure that states respect the 45-day deadline, including a demand that the Justice Department provide a state-by-state accounting of compliance efforts. The hold on Mr. Cole, reportedly a personal friend of Mr. Holder, is sure to grab the attorney general’s attention. Our troops deserve his respect.

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