The next president of the United States must do right by our men and women in uniform. Our troops put their lives on the line to protect our right to vote, but untold thousands of them were unable to cast their own ballots on Tuesday. For shame.
Veterans groups and soldiers advocates have warned about military disenfranchisement for years. M. Eric Eversole, director of the Military Voter Protection (MVP) Project and a former litigation attorney in the Voting Section of the U.S. Department of Justice, reported that "more than 17,000 military and overseas voters were disenfranchised in 2008 because their ballots arrived after the deadline and had to be rejected."
That doesn't include the thousands more whose ballots never arrived or arrived at their bases too close to the election to be returned. The total number of troops affected this year could be more than double or triple that because of the relocation of nearly 70,000 military personnel out of Iraq and Afghanistan over the past year.
More alarming, the feds acknowledged last week that a transport plane that crashed at Shindand Air Base in Afghanistan on Oct. 19 was carrying 4,700 pounds of mail -- including an unknown number of absentee ballots.
Experts agree that a minimum 45-day mailing standard is needed to provide soldiers overseas sufficient time to get their ballots home. But the feds have done virtually nothing to ensure that laggard states comply with military voter protection statutes. In fact, the Obama administration has actively worked against pro-troop voting protection efforts by suing to stop Ohio's military enfranchisement reforms.
Moreover, according to a report by the Military Voter Protection Project released on Election Eve, the number of absentee ballot requests by both military members and other overseas voters in the battleground states of Virginia and Ohio has dropped 70 percent since 2008. Despite a federal law mandating that every base establish a voting assistance office (the 2009 Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment Act), the Pentagon reported this summer that it could only contact such offices on half of the military's bases. In Wisconsin alone this election cycle, at least 30 municipalities failed to send absentee ballots to members of the military before the 45-day election deadline.
On Monday, GOP Sens. John Cornyn, Kelly Ayotte, John McCain, Rob Portman and Marco Rubio raised the issue with President Obama's Defense Secretary Leon Panetta. The group noted that the DoD's Military Postal Service Agency (MPSA) had documented widespread problems experienced by overseas military voters during the last midterm elections, but that the department had taken no steps to make mail streamlining and modernization changes recommended in 2010.
The most simple, efficient fix involves a centralized mail forwarding system for blank absentee ballots to accommodate transient servicemen and servicewomen. The U.S. Postal System already has a similar system in place for civilian use.
"We are perplexed as to why DoD did not do everything in its power to modernize the system for redirecting blank ballots in order to eliminate this roadblock for military service members," the senators told Panetta. Perplexed? Try steamed. Outraged. Livid. "Our men and women in uniform should be able to participate in the very same democratic system of government that they defend, not be relegated to mere spectator status because their ballot never reached them."
The profligate Obama administration -- which squandered trillions of taxpayer dollars on a failed stimulus law, billions on dozens of now-bankrupt green boondoggles, billions to the Muslim Brotherhood-coddling government of Egypt, and multimillions on the first lady's junkets in Spain and around the world -- has the audacity to blame funding woes for its neglect of military enfranchisement reform. A White House less focused on revenge and redistribution would put the rights of those who secure our blessings of liberty first. They deserve nothing less.