Few organizations are as skilled at spending billions of dollars while accomplishing little as the federal government is. The Obama administration’s failure to protect military voters demonstrates this — across America, ballots have failed to mail on time to overseas service members. It is a mistake that keeps repeating every two years, and Americans should demand it never happens again.
When you learn more about the rogue’s gallery the Obama administration counts as engaged, you’ll understand the administration’s failures better.
But let’s start with our old friend Eric Holder. Sadly, multiple states failed to send military ballots by the September 22 deadline established by federal law. In the subsequent 26 days, his Justice Department filed precisely one lawsuit against offending states and counties to protect military voters.
Holder’s lone target? The hotly contested state of Vermont.
Federal law gives Eric Holder monopoly power to sue states or counties that fail to mail military ballots on time. Some, including the Military Voter Protection Project, want to give soldiers a right to sue, instead of just Eric Holder. A stuck-on-stupid policy in the DOJ Voting Section, where I used to work, refuses to sue the county election officials who are chiefly to blame for disenfranchising military voters. This dumb, stubborn policy means that the Justice Department only sues states — which have attorneys general with well-stocked offices of lawyers. Vermont, for example, is fiercely fighting Eric Holder’s lone lawsuit.
Others stuck in the civil justice wars of the 1990s oppose giving service members the right to sue. They prefer that only Washington bureaucrats have the power to protect military voters, because they don’t want to create a new federal tort.
But DOJ’s abdication of effective enforcement is so bad that Michigan Secretary of State Ruth Johnson sued her own counties to stop disenfranchisement, because the DOJ would not.
Meanwhile, multiple states have failed to mail military ballots on time, and Eric Holder doesn’t act. Take Massachusetts: the Bay State has grossly violated federal law. Dozens of towns never sent military ballots on time, but Holder has done nothing. After all, GOP Senator Scott Brown is up for reelection.
Unfortunately, Massachusetts is not alone. Other states have failed to mail military ballots on time, including Wisconsin, where recent polls show a slim lead for Mitt Romney.
If Mitt Romney becomes the next president, it will be essential once and for all to remove the problems inside DOJ which have given us the bi-annual military ballot mess.
The Pentagon deserves even stronger criticism. An entire unit inside the Pentagon is tasked with helping service members vote — the Federal Voting Assistance Program (FVAP). Naturally, FVAP is also failing to deliver.
Consider the bipartisan MOVE Act, passed in 2009. It required FVAP to open up voting assistance offices on every military installation worldwide. A recent DOD Inspector General report found that less than half of the mandated offices are actually open. To achieve this fail, the Pentagon blew through $75,000,000 that Congress allocated for the opening of the offices.
Internal FVAP sources tell me that before the legislation passed, the head of FVAP was opposed to opening the offices to help service members. After MOVE passed, FVAP bitterly slow-walked the unwanted voting offices.
Fewer than half were ever opened. Such are the priorities of the Obama presidency.
The most outrageous part of this saga is that those in leadership at FVAP genuinely don’t believe they screwed up. Current and former FVAP staff have been hawking the narrative that everything is rosy, despite the IG’s spanking and despite declining participation rates by military voters in 2012.
Pam Mitchell, the head of FVAP, actually says the number of service members who vote successfully isn’t a good measure of success. “Participation rates alone are poor indicators of the effectiveness of voting assistance given that interest in voting fluctuates with each election,” Mitchell told the House last month.
Some on Capitol Hill who should know better have fallen for it.
But Defense Secretary Leon Panetta isn’t buying his underling’s spin. Panetta issued a statement demanding accountability at FVAP and wondering how officials there blew through 75-large but failed to get fewer than half of the required voting offices open.
This is how Washington works. Bureaucrats are hard-wired to believe they haven’t screwed up. They turn to coworkers and office pals to reinforce their belief. The FVAP version of this delusion is to tell Americans that the voting success rate really isn’t a success rate, and that Voting Assistance Officers (VAOs) spread around the world will carry the load.
I’ve spoken with numerous active VAOs, and they describe a system that doesn’t work. One officer in Kuwait shared with me the story of how he couldn’t get his CO’s approval to attend the required VAO training at the American embassy in Kuwait. Yet another described for me the thick clunky FVAP book with voting guidelines for every state and territory they must lug around. Still another VAO described the lavish world travel enjoyed by a former FVAP director, who was greeted by a car at airstrips around the globe and whisked off to receptions of fresh cut fruit, liquor, and shrimp cocktail. Nice work, if you can get it.
In the face of these failures, FVAP has announced that Twitter and Facebook are an answer:
We use social media. We use Twitter. We use Facebook, especially so that we can reach out to the largest military population, which is those 18- to 24- to 25-year-olds. We have a mobile website we just unveiled last week so that using a smartphone or a tablet from anywhere you may be, you can obtain access to our information and our tools.
There’s only one problem: only 45 percent of FVAP’s Twitter followers are active, or even real, according to statuspeople.com:
A small percentage of the 36,018 @FVAP followers appear to have any relationship to the military.
Consider two followers of FVAP’s social media campaign. “Grrrrrrr” loves “to party” and is part of #teamBiSexual. FVAP follower Cool Gadgets provides a helpful link to www.sextoysonline.se and randomly notes in his Twitter profile — “dildos”:
FVAP can always rely on Twitter follower Cristian Ortega to get DOD’s messages to the troops. Ortega notes he is “twelf [sic] years old and I love @lmfao and my idols are @redfoo and @skynuts”:
If Ortega doen’t deliver the goods, FVAP can turn to others like PornSplice, Nazi Abisabb, or Bangkok Wing Chun. The latter offers “professional private instruction in Wing Chun, Yoga, and Quigong” (not to be confused with those good old Dance Hall Days):
Others like “Dreemstars” may be monitoring FVAP for reasons which have nothing to do with military voting rights.
These are just a few samples; there are many others. All told, next to nobody that matters is paying attention to the Defense Department’s absurd social media campaign. An FVAP insider told me that FVAP has devoted significant taxpayer resources to this internet folly. Meanwhile, FVAP scrambles to spin a story of success at odds with the data.
The DOJ isn’t the only place where any incoming Romney administration needs to clean house. FVAP is currently run by an interim director. That makes it easy for the next secretary of Defense to install new leadership that has both experience running elections as well as experience wearing the uniform. If that doesn’t happen, this bi-annual catastrophe will taint 2014 midterm elections as well as any 2016 presidential reelection.