One of the sad truths about being a deployed member of the armed service is that you miss important dates such as weddings and birthdays. One of the more disappointing truths about serving in the military is that when it comes to elections, many of our votes are not counted. An alarming statistic from the Heritage Foundation is that fewer than 20% of military personnel were able to cast votes that were counted in 2008. The Republican Party continues to believe in a strong military and improving military members’ voting procedures would go a long way in proving that support. I would recommend they show the troops how they care by simplifying the absentee voting process and allowing their voices to be heard.
The government has some legal statutes in place to facilitate military voting, like the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act (UOCAVA). The Department of Justice helps oversee this program and enforce its compliance. The law states that uniformed service members must be allowed to vote absentee and “ballots should be mailed to overseas addresses at least 45 days prior to an election in order to ensure adequate time for a ballot to reach a voter and be returned.”
Even with these laws in place, many military absentee ballots are thrown out and, frequently, it is because the ballots arrive after the election deadline. With the sacrifice of so many in the military, it is reprehensible that many states do not allow time for members to mail back their ballots.
Congress created the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) in 2002 to help with the voting process for military families. However, it is clear from the statistic of military votes counted in 2008 that HAVA hasn’t helped like it was supposed to. Better legislation needs to be put in place to correct this immediately. Fortunately, on the House side, Representative Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) is trying to change that with his bill, H.R. 2393, the Military Voting Protection Act of 2009. The main points of the bill are to better inform deploying military members and their family of the absentee process and use express mail delivery to expedite the operation. Furthermore, on the Senate side, Senator John Cornyn has introduced S. 1026 and has 34 sponsors of essentially the same bill.
The military vote is a complicated demographic. It has been the assumption that the military tends to vote Republican. However, we know that in 2008 the majority of deployed military members donated to then-Senator Obama from a report by the Center for Responsive Politics. Conventional wisdom would assume that because a former decorated military member was running, he would naturally receive the majority of donations and votes.
However, those who serve in the military are increasingly aware of domestic and foreign policy issues because they are directly affected by many of the decisions in Washington, D.C. I am more inclined to find a conversation on health care by young people in the cafeteria in Kabul, Afghanistan, than back home in the states. Military young men and women understand the threats from foreign powers better than anyone. Also, better training on personal finances highlights to them that sound financial planning is the key to a fruitful career and retirement.
Even though the next presidential campaign is a few years away, there are elections right around the corner in Virginia and New Jersey. It would be shameful for those members who are currently serving in Iraq or Afghanistan to again miss a chance to make a difference in their home state. There are a couple of organizations pushing hard to improve the military voting effort, like Project Virginia, an independent political action committee, and helping to promote and encourage military members understand their rights. The self-imposed deadline that Project Virginia is offering to members who want their absentee ballots to be counted before the October 27 deadline is October 5. This would give those members on ships or on the ground in a combat zone enough time, hopefully.
The Republican Party has a chance to show how much they value the men and women in uniform and support the bills of Congressman McCarthy and Senator Cornyn. With the November elections in Virginia and New Jersey, it is apparent that promoting military voting is an issue that should be a high priority. The effort would be appreciated and, believe me, we are paying attention.