No one has a greater claim to participate in the process of setting the nation's direction than America's warriors. They risk their lives to defend their countrymen, but they have received little regard at the ballot box in return. As the race between Democratic President Obama and GOP challenger Mitt Romney remains too close to call, voters in uniform could have a decisive impact on the outcome. It's clear Mr. Obama's supporters don't want that to happen.
The Military Voter Protection Project labels as "bleak" the prospects for Americans in uniform who use absentee ballots to have their voices heard. The organization, set up to help servicemen vote, surveyed ballot requests in various states and found applications were only 33 percent of the number requested in 2008. "While the number of absentee ballot requests will increase in the coming weeks, especially as the election draws near, the amount needed to meet 2008 levels is staggering," said the group's Aug. 31 report. Defense Department resistance to congressionally mandated voter assistance requirements is to blame.
Those in military life are often stationed far from home or overseas, which makes voting more difficult. In the 2008 presidential contest, only 20 percent of the 2.6 million military voters had their ballots counted. Many states were tardy sending out absentee ballots to servicemen, causing completed ballots to arrive after Election Day. Consequently, Congress enacted the Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment Act in 2009, which mandated absentee ballots be sent to servicemen requesting them at least 45 days prior to Election Day. This year, that deadline expired on Sept. 22.
Another key provision of the law requires the Defense Department to open voter assistance offices on military bases to help personnel file their absentee ballot requests. However, a recent report from the Pentagon inspector general's office said that many of the offices proved hard to contact or non-existent: "Results were clear. Our attempts to contact [Installation Voting Assistance Offices] failed about 50 percent of the time." If soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines have trouble getting voter assistance, it's unsurprising that absentee ballot requests are lagging.
The Pentagon blamed the poor results on inspectors using outdated contact information, but for Sen. John Cornyn, Texas Republican, this isn't the real issue: "Today, many of the on-base voter assistance offices that do exist are grossly inadequate, and at least half of them are either closed or completely unstaffed," he wrote in a Sept. 7 letter to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta.
It's no secret that military personnel are displeased with Mr. Obama. While the latest Rasmussen Reports daily tracking poll has Mr. Obama with a 3-point edge among the general public over GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney, a Rasmussen poll in July showed military voters back Mr. Romney by a 24-point margin.
America's warriors deserve a say in choosing their commander in chief. The administration shouldn't drag its feet on implementing the overseas voting reform law simply to avoid the likely result.
The Washington Times
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