Surprise — at least one poll shows a huge McCain lead: “[Senator John] McCain, R-Ariz., handily defeated Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., 68 percent to 23 percent in a voluntary survey of 4,293 active-duty, National Guard, and reserve subscribers and former subscribers to Army Times, Navy Times, Marine Corps Times, and Air Force Times.” Or perhaps not so surprising: there’s a history involved here.
In 1864 the nation was nearing the end of the Civil War — but some wanted it ended sooner than others. Democrats offered a platform declaring that it was “the sense of the American people, that after four years of failure to restore the Union by the experiment of war, during which . . . the Constitution itself has been disregarded in every part, . . . justice, humanity, liberty, and the public welfare demand that immediate efforts be made for a cessation of hostilities.” In short: end the war now.
Their candidate was General (still on active duty throughout the presidential campaign) George McClellan. He assured voters that restoration of the Union was a worthwhile endeavor, but hinted that other goals had since corrupted the purpose of the war he himself had once waged and nearly lost. “The Union is the one condition of peace,” McClellan wrote. “We ask no more.” He likewise pledged to restore America’s standing in the eyes of the world — in his words, “resume our commanding position among the nations of the earth.”
And along with all that, Democrats supported the troops:
Resolved, that the sympathy of the Democratic Party is heartily and earnestly extended to the soldiery of our army and sailors of our navy, who are and have been in the field and on the sea under the flag of our country, and, in the events of its attaining power, they will receive all the care, protection, and regard that the brave soldiers and sailors of the republic have so nobly earned.
Which was a good thing because America was trying something brand new that year: “absentee voting” — intended to ensure that those troops would be able to cast their ballots, too. But while Republicans claimed that voting was “a right vested in the individual which could adequately be exercised through written media, regardless of location,” Democrats countered that votes must be cast in person: “Like marriages and wills, votes required competent witnesses, defined by the Democrats as fellow citizens with shared concerns and responsibilities. Army officers appointed by the federal government could not fill this role. These conservative Democratic views of the mid-19th century seem alien to our thinking today, as absentee voting has since become a firmly established practice.”
So as Sherman marched on Atlanta a different sort of war was waged in the North:
Wisconsin was the first to permit their soldiers to vote in the field through absentee ballots. California, Connecticut, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, New Hampshire, New York, Ohio, and Pennsylvania all followed suit. However, Illinois, Indiana, and New Jersey, which all had Democratic-controlled state legislatures, did not pass legislation allowing soldiers to vote in the field.
But Secretary of War Edwin Stanton ensured the troops were given absentee ballots or granted leave to vote in person, and Lincoln himself asked General Sherman to allow Indiana soldiers to return home to vote. Lincoln was reelected with 55 percent of the popular vote and an Electoral College landslide, and while not decisive in the election, he received over 70 percent of the military vote.