But protection of military voting rights requires urgency: there is no law enforced by the Voting Section that demands similar speed, and the ability to assess and react quickly. It’s similar to the tasks faced by our heroes in uniform.
Congress will have ample opportunity to collect documents about the catastrophic errors in 2010. These were foreseeable errors: indeed, I wrote about them here at PJM last summer, and others with firsthand knowledge of the broken system warned Americans about the mess that was coming. Sadly, it has gone worse than imagined.
If you are wondering what the system is that I claim is broken — how the DOJ actually investigates to see if states are mailing ballots in time to military voters — it’s not secret. You can read about their crack investigative methods in an affidavit filed in the 2008 case against Virginia (click here). Quite simply, the DOJ calls the states and asks state officials if their counties mailed the ballots in time. In Virginia in 2008, and in multiple places in 2010, this method just wasn’t good enough.
The non-profit Military Voter Protection Project — headed by Eric Eversole, a former DOJ Voting Section attorney — is a private organization which exists to detect failures to mail military ballots. They use a different methodology, which is more effective than the one DOJ uses. MVPP detected failures in Illinois and New Mexico before the DOJ did. (Once again, the private sector performs better.)
After the mess of 2008 and the shame of having to file that embarrassing affidavit, the DOJ should have reassessed how it protects military voting rights. It didn’t. Obviously, it wasn’t a priority of Attorney General Holder. Additionally, this DOJ has shown a preference to deny they did anything wrong rather then hurry to fix a problem.
The person in charge of the process at the Voting Section doesn’t take the criticism seriously, either.
The criticism was characterized by this person directly to me as a “biannual event, everyone complains every two years.” In other words: they’ve come to expect that people don’t think they do a good job, and they don’t care. They think the complaints arrive on a regular schedule, instead of deriving from their own performance.
The first step to recovery is to admit you have a problem, and Attorney General Holder has a very big problem on his hands. Actually, so does President Obama. If the mess of 2010 repeats in 2012, this president will have an even harder time convincing the public he merits reelection. I promise the voices of critics and the watchful eyes of citizens will be more intense in two years.