The number of U.S. military personnel registering for absentee voting is down sharply since the 2008 election, and with registration deadlines approaching fast, advocates say there is a real danger that many of the nation’s men and women in uniform may not have a chance to vote at all.
In Virginia, for instance, only 5,263 ballots had been requested by military voters as of Sept. 22, compared with 20,738 in 2008, according to state figures compiled by the Military Voter Protection Project.
“The people who are on the front lines defending freedom are in danger of having their voices silenced,” project founder Eric Eversole said.
He laid the blame squarely at the feet of the Pentagon, saying “it’s down to bureaucratic inertia. There’s a lack of any strong structure that encourages service members to vote.
“These numbers show that military members throughout the force are still struggling to register and request an absentee ballot.”
Mr. Eversole noted that the first state deadlines for absentee voting registration are next week.
In Ohio and Florida, Tuesday is the deadline for registration. In Virginia, the deadlines are Oct. 15 for registration and Oct. 30 for requesting an absentee ballot.
However, the limitations of the military postal system mean that ballots from overseas, especially in war zones, often have to be mailed weeks in advance of Election Day.
Pentagon officials defended their efforts to help military personnel register and vote, as mandated by federal law. The efforts are vital because even troops stationed in the United States often vote absentee.
Military voting is complicated because states have different deadlines, procedures and services, creating a confusing patchwork of rules that any military voter has to negotiate.
“We have an aggressive, robust outreach effort going on right now to reach service members and educate them about how to exercise their right to vote,” said Navy Cmdr. Leslie Hull-Ryde, a Pentagon spokeswoman.
“There are multiple resources available to help them,” Cmdr. Hull-Ryde said, including specially trained voting assistance officers in every unit and a special Pentagon website and call center where personnel can get advice on how to register in their home states.
“There is still time for military voters to participate in this election,” she said. “It is critical that [service members] check the registration deadline for their state.”
Mr. Eversole expressed disbelief, and noted: “The deadlines are quickly approaching, and the numbers are still well, well below where they were in the last cycle.”
“When do they think these requests are going to come in?” he said.