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GOP senators ask Panetta to make sure troops can vote

- The Washington Times - Friday, September 7, 2012

Six Republican senators are asking Secretary of Defense Leon E. Panetta personally to intervene to ensure that U.S. troops stationed away from home get the chance to register and vote in the upcoming election.

They say Pentagon officials are ignoring a 2009 law that ordered the military to set up a special voting-assistance office at every U.S. base around the world, to make sure troops can negotiate the confusing patchwork of 50 different sets of state registration and absentee voting requirements, and get their ballots mailed in time.

"The price of [the Department of Defense's] failure to follow the law will likely be paid this November by military service members and their families, whose voting rights were to have been safeguarded by this provision," wrote U.S. Republican Sens. John Cornyn of Texas, Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, John Barrasso of Wyoming, Richard Burr of North Carolina, Saxby Chambliss of Georgia and James Inhofe of Oklahoma.

"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," states the letter, sent to Mr. Panetta Friday.

"We request a timely response on what you intend to do to ensure that our military service members and their families receive the voter assistance they need in order to participate in the democratic process this November," the letter concludes.

Earlier this week, the Pentagon inspector general released a report saying investigators had been unable to contact voting-assistance offices at just over half of the U.S. military's 229 bases across the globe. But Pam Mitchell, the acting director of the Federal Voting Assistance Program at the Pentagon, said they were using outdated contact information.

"I strongly believe that voting-assistance is the best that it has ever been," she said.

A Pentagon spokeswoman said she had nothing to add to Ms. Mitchell's remarks, made Wednesday at a briefing for reporters.

Mr. Panetta "responds to all members of Congress and will respond to the senators directly," Navy Cmdr. Leslie Hull-Ryde said.

Ms. Mitchell will testify next week before a House Armed Services Subcommittee and will face "tough questions" according to a staffer.

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