Thomas E. Perez, assistant attorney general for civil rights, is testifying today about military voting problems before the House Administration Committee. He should get hammered for the bureaucracy’s laggard attention to making sure those who defend our rights can exercise their own right to vote.
Despite Justice Department claims to the contrary, voting procedures for troops and civilians stationed overseas were plagued by difficulties in 2010. Bumbling and obstinacy at Justice are part of the problem. At issue for much of last year was implementation of the Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment (MOVE) Act, which requires that ballots for these voters be mailed at least 45 days before the general election. This reflects the reality that it can take a long time for mail to reach fighters in far-flung war zones such as the remote areas of Afghanistan. In 2008, more than 17,000 American citizens working abroad were disenfranchised.
MOVE was supposed to fix the broken system, but the Justice Department publicly encouraged states to seek waivers from MOVE’s requirements, was extremely tardy in sending information to states about how to comply and then failed to adequately monitor compliance. It’s not coincidental that military voters tend to be Republican and the administration that’s dragging its feet on their behalf is Democratic. While the department slept, a volunteer team of law students for the private Military Voter Protection (MVP) Project caught seven states in noncompliance. A lawsuit from MVP - against a ballot plan already approved by Justice - forced full accommodation for military voters from Maryland. On Oct. 29, federal district Judge Roger W. Titus ruled that the plan approved for Maryland by the Justice Department “unconstitutionally infringes the right to vote” of overseas personnel.
Data is being compiled to determine how many overseas voters were disenfranchised in 2010. One group has conducted a preliminary survey of 5,000 such citizens, however, and found that there is still room to improve MOVE. According to a Feb. 10 report by the Overseas Vote Foundation, the percentage of voters receiving the ballot they requested rose from 77 percent in 2008 to 82 percent this year. Of those, “only 16.5 percent [down from 28 percent]… said they received their ballots after the middle of October; while MOVE is designed to decrease this number to zero percent, this still represents a significant decrease.” The foundation warned of “a high level of confusion among voters and election officials” and “a measurable lack of efficiency in new ballot request methods.”
On Oct. 28, before the election took place, Rep. Dan Lungren, California Republican, wrote to Mr. Perez, complaining, “Whether or not the department’s efforts have been robust, the results certainly are not.” Mr. Lungren is chairman of the committee holding today’s hearing. Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. and his team at Justice are about to find out that the new Republican majority won’t sit still for mistreatment of U.S. servicemen like former House Speaker Pelosi’s leadership did.