Military Voting Accountability Starts Today

Today, two very different stories will be heard at a hearing before Congress. Eric Eversole and Assistant Attorney General Tom Perez will both testify about the plight of military voters in the 2010 election and whether or not the Justice Department did all it could to protect them. Perez will exaggerate DOJ efforts to protect military voters, and Eric Eversole will testify truthfully about where DOJ dropped the ball in 2010.

In 2010, the Department of Justice was suggesting that states mail overseas ballots to servicemembers that listed federal elections but intentionally omitted state contests. With the approach of the electoral tsunami in the fall of 2010, such DOJ suggestions were bound to have a partisan result in down-ballot contests nationwide.

Along with Fox News, Pajamas Media led the coverage of what was happening to those serving overseas when they attempted to vote in 2010. Story after story after story described how federal and state governments were failing our men and women in uniform.

States didn’t send ballots overseas in time, and the Justice Department didn’t do anything about it until weeks of bad publicity forced action. In fact, the whole problem began when a Justice official told state election officials in February 2010 that DOJ was averse to litigation to enforce the law, and that a new law demanding ballots mail at least 45 days in advance was ambiguous.

Yesterday, Senator John Barrasso (R-Wyoming) introduced the Military and Overseas Voter Relief Act to send a message that Congress is now watching Tom Perez’s Keystone Kops operation in the Voting Section very closely. His bill would end the Eric Holder DOJ monopoly on protecting military voters, letting soldiers sue directly to force states to send them ballots on time. The simple message: Eric Holder’s Justice Department is no longer trusted to empower men and women in arms to vote, especially in 2012.

There may be some resistance to Barrasso’s plan in the House to give soldiers a right to sue because of federalism concerns. While understandable, that train has left the station. Private rights of action are throughout election law. And what House member would stand in the way of giving a soldier the right to sue when he doesn’t get a ballot when groups like ACORN had private rights of action under federal law? The public shame will be withering should resistance to Barrasso’s bill appear.

Tom Perez is tasked today with the unenviable job of putting lipstick on the DOJ’s military voting pig. No doubt he’ll talk about the Department’s “aggressive enforcement” and multiple lawsuits. He’ll leave out the part about it taking weeks to file the lawsuits after the violations were discovered by Pajamas Media. He’ll omit the part about tedious delays, talk, and negotiations instead of action in the precious days leading up to the election.

I doubt he will mention Maryland and the unconstitutional plan the DOJ greenlighted there which resulted in wholesale disenfranchisement of military voters. Thankfully, we can count on Eric Eversole to tell Congress how the Justice Department blessed a plan for Maryland to send ballots overseas that omitted state contests, like the one between Governor Martin O’Malley and Republican challenger Bob Ehrlich.

I have learned through multiple sources with direct knowledge that the Perez- and Julie Fernandes-run Voting Section advised states that it would be acceptable under federal law to omit down-ballot state contests and only give servicemembers overseas the right to vote in federal contests.

Congress should ask Tom Perez today if Voting Section staff advised states that they could avoid Justice lawsuits by simply erasing or omitting the state contests from the ballots mailed overseas. If he doesn’t answer straight, ask him if such advice was given to Maryland and Rokey Suleman of the District of Columbia Board of Elections, or any other state.

If Perez answers truthfully -- which he will have to because documents prove it -- he will have to admit such guidance was given. He might deflect the question and say there is nothing wrong with it, except there is. Omitting state contests have been found by a federal court to be an unconstitutional deprivation of the soldier’s right to vote: Eversole’s Military Voter Protection Project sued Maryland because it treated military voters differently than regular voters by omitting state contests in ballots sent overseas, and Eversole won. Maryland servicemembers could vote for everyone running, despite DOJ’s efforts to the contrary. Simply, DOJ blessed a plan for military voters in Maryland that a federal court found to be unconstitutional. More lipstick please, for Mr. Perez’s pig.

Recall that Tom Perez is the same Obama appointee who provided accuracy-challenged testimony about the New Black Panther dismissal and the Department’s unwillingness to enforce civil rights laws in a race-neutral fashion. Committee members should proceed cautiously.

I also suspect Tom Perez won’t tell the whole story about Illinois. The DOJ entered a settlement agreement with Illinois that plainly flouted the express command of Congress. Federal law required ballots to mail 45 days in advance. Early mailing is important for many reasons, including the ability to enjoy essentially an express mail “wormhole” a few days before the election that rockets ballots stateside for counting. Illinois allows overseas ballots to be counted 15 days after the election. Fail to follow federal law? No problem, Perez’s DOJ simply entered a settlement that ignored the 45 day law and artificially tacked on the 15 extra days under state law to count towards reaching 45 days. Problem was, only 30 of those 45 days were before the election. Congress explicitly rejected such a fix.

Illinois, Maryland, and D.C. were not the only places where the DOJ blew it.

The saga of 2010 military voting is a loud warning to House Republicans that Perez’s shop is not to be trusted heading into 2012, even if there are wholesale attitude and personnel adjustments. He might start the adjustments with the person responsible for telling Maryland and other states they could unconstitutionally disenfranchise our soldiers and sailors. If Perez won’t conduct a housecleaning, Senator Barrasso has the answer.