- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Half of all U.S. military bases around the world lack legally required facilities where troops can register to vote and get absentee ballots, according to a report from the Pentagon’s inspector general.

Advocacy groups said the report shows the military has let down its service members by failing to implement the 2009 Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment (MOVE) Act.

“It’s disappointing. This was the will of Congress,” said Eric Eversole, founder of the Military Voter Protection Project.

“Here you have an agency [the Pentagon] that basically said to Congress, ‘We’re not going to do what you told us to do. We think we know more about voter registration than you do and we’re not going to do it.’?”

Under the MOVE Act, all military installations are required to have a voting-assistance office, which, like the “motor voter” offices at departments of motor vehicles, offer individuals the opportunity to register and ask them to sign a form if they decline. The law said the offices should be open by 2010.

When investigators from the inspector general’s office attempted to contact the offices at the military’s 229 bases overseas, they were able reach just 114 — fewer than half.

One of the authors of the act, Sen. John Cornyn, Republican of Texas, is sending a letter to Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta this week to ask him to personally intervene, according to his office.

“With great disappointment, we have concluded that the Department of Defense stands in clear violation of a central provision of this federal law,” the letter says, according to extracts provided to The Washington Times.

“The price of the [department’s] failure to follow the law will likely be paid this November by military service members and their families.”

The House Armed Services Committee will hold a hearing on the issue Sept. 13, a committee staffer said. State elections officials are due to send out absentee ballots by Sept. 22, Mr. Eversole said.

Pentagon officials blamed a lack of resources for the failure to establish the voting offices, according to the inspector general report.

“We concluded the services had not established all the [voting-assistance offices] as intended by the [MOVE Act] because, among other issues, the funding was not available,” reads the report, published last week but first reported Wednesday.

The report said Congress failed to authorize additional funding to implement the MOVE Act and added that Pentagon officials estimate the costs of establishing the offices could exceed $20 million per year.

But Mr. Eversole said Congress had appropriated $75 million over the past three years for military voter assistance efforts.

“The notion that they didn’t have the money to do this, that’s laughable,” he said.

The acting director of the Pentagon’s Federal Voting Assistance Program, the official responsible for implementing the law and spending the money, told reporters the inspector general’s investigators had used outdated contact information.

“I strongly believe that voting assistance is the best that it has ever been,” Pam Mitchell said at a Pentagon briefing.

Mr. Eversole disputed her remarks.

“She may believe that, but data from the states shows otherwise,” he said.

A report last month from the Military Voter Protection Project found that military requests for absentee ballots were lower than in 2008 in key swing states like Virginia, North Carolina and Ohio. In those three states fewer than 2 percent of eligible military voters had requested absentee ballots, the report found.

Mr. Eversole called the results “shocking.”

The House Armed Services Committee staffer said Ms. Mitchell “will face some tough questions when she testifies” at the hearing next week.

• Shaun Waterman can be reached at swaterman@washingtontimes.com.

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