The Justice Department should file suit this week against dozens of states that appear not to be in compliance with a 2009 law to ensure voting rights for military personnel stationed abroad. Failure to file suit will expose the Obama administration’s lack of commitment to military voting.
On Friday, after consultation with Justice, the Department of Defense granted waivers exempting five states from the law’s requirement that absentee ballots be mailed to personnel abroad at least 45 days before the Nov. 2 election. Waivers may be granted only if a state can explain how it can absolutely guarantee the timely provision and counting of military ballots despite missing the 45-day deadline. The primary in Delaware, for example, is only 49 days before the election, or four days before the Saturday, Sept. 18 deadline. Delaware explained it may not be able to send the ballots on a Saturday, but promised to do so on the Monday two days later.
The problem may be less with those five states, and more with the four states - plus the Virgin Islands and the District of Columbia - that applied for waivers but were denied. Their applications indicate they are not in compliance with the law, while the denial of the waiver means the Defense Department thinks their alternative proposals are insufficient. Several other states, including Maryland, have pledged to meet the deadline but have not fully explained how.
The law also requires states provide troops the option of electronic ballot delivery and a system for military voters to track their ballots (much like overnight mail services do) to ensure they were received in time. According to Eric Eversole, executive director of the nonprofit Military Voter Protection Project, it’s unclear if Connecticut, Missouri, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Alabama are in compliance with all aspects of the electronic-delivery requirement. Earlier this month, the National Association of Secretaries of State reported that only 11 of its 38 member states had developed ballot-tracking capability.
Former Justice Department voting rights lawyer J. Christian Adams told The Washington Times that Justice could and should file suit within 24 hours against all noncompliant states, and that there is no reason the department can’t secure temporary injunctions from judges within the week to force compliance. Otherwise, he explained, states can argue - and in previous years have indeed argued - that the lawsuit and injunction are too late to make compliance physically possible. “Every day that goes by will strengthen the legal position of those noncompliant states and make it more likely that some military votes will go uncounted,” Mr. Adams said.
Sen. John Cornyn, the Texas Republican who co-authored the 2009 law, agreed yesterday that more must be done. “The ball is back in the attorney general’s court,” he said. “Now is the time for DOJ to act, or further disenfranchisement of our troops will certainly result.” Those defending our freedom must not be denied their right to vote.