Time for a Military Suffrage Movement

Remember the last election and all the rhetoric from the Democrats about making sure every vote counted, and reaching out to "traditionally" disenfranchised voters and communities? Remember how they were constantly accusing Republicans of deliberately and maliciously alienating and suppressing minority voters? Remember all that? In fact, claims of specific instances of disenfranchised voters were alleged long before the One ran for office.

It turns out that the brave men and women of our military are the most disenfranchised group of voters today. Literally. The Heritage Foundation has published the results and analysis of research performed by Hans A. von Spakovsky, a legal scholar and a former Commissioner on the Federal Election Commission, and by Eric Eversole, a former active duty officer in the Navy JAG Corps and former lawyer in the Voting Section of the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice.

The authors assert that members of the military have traditionally been disenfranchised at both the state and federal levels due to the unique circumstances and situations in which soldiers find themselves (i.e. war). Spakovsky and Eversole also conclude that unless Congress does something about this injustice, "military personnel will continue to be the largest group of disenfranchised voters in the United States."

Key portions of the research:

Despite many states reporting record turnout in 2008, data from the election demonstrates a shockingly low level of participation among military voters.[8] Take, for example, the treatment of military voters in Minnesota. In a state that prides itself on the nation's highest voter participation rate--78.2 percent of the eligible population participated in the 2008 presidential election--only 15.8 percent of Minnesota's 23,346 military members and their voting age dependents were able to cast an absentee ballot in the same election.[9] To make matters worse, even if the military voter in Minnesota cast his or her absentee ballot, that ballot was nearly sixteen times more likely to be rejected by local election officials, as compared to other absentee voters statewide.[10] A vast majority of the rejected military ballots--nearly 70 percent--were rejected because the ballot was returned after the election deadline. Ultimately, only 14.4 percent of Minnesota's eligible military voters were able to cast a vote that counted in the 2008 presidential election.

(Minnesota? Wasn't that the state with the heavily contested election for US Senator, where Norm Coleman lost to Al Franken by roughly 312 votes? )

Ensuring that the men and women fighting for their lives - and ours - in 115 degree weather, dodging bullets, eating horrible food, and carrying gigantic loads of equipment are able to partake in their Constitutionally guaranteed civil right -voting - is apparently not as exciting or politically satisfying as ensuring homeless thug thizzles get to vote.

More from the study:

Florida had the highest number of requests [for absentee ballots] with 27.8 percent of nearly 324,000 military voters requesting an absentee ballot. Texas was second with 22.9 percent and California was third with 17.8 percent. All told, of the estimated 943,879 military voters in these three states, only 23.4 percent or 220,595 requested an absentee ballot to vote in the 2008 presidential election. The rate of return of those same absentee ballots was even lower. Only 11.3 percent of the eligible military voters in California actually returned their ballots compared to 20.6 percent in Florida and 13.1 percent in Texas.

If there were a minority group that had this low of a return rate and voter turnout, and said group was completely dependent on the government for the disbursement and transportation of their ballots, the cries of racism would never cease.

The Heritage Foundation report also finds:

According to a recent study by the Overseas Vote Foundation (OVF), many of these overseas military ballots may have been lost or significantly delayed by the postal service. The OVF found that nearly 22 percent of respondents to a survey, which included military and overseas voters, never received their requested absentee ballot for the 2008 presidential election.[12] In addition, 10 percent received their absentee ballots less than seven days before the election and 1 percent received their ballots after November 4, 2008. In other words, the 2008 OVF Report found that nearly one third of its respondents either did not receive their absentee ballot or received it with insufficient time to return it to election officials.

It comes as no surprise that this data does not solely reflect the 2008 elections. Apparently there was almost identical disenfranchisement of military personnel in 2006 as well. Research has determined that 45 days prior to the deadline is the minimum amount of time that the ballots need to be sent to military personnel, particularly those serving abroad and in combat zones. However, one-third of all states refuse to follow the 45 day guideline!

According to the authors, some government officials say that 60 days is necessary to ensure that personnel receive the ballots with enough time to return them before any deadlines. Think about it, not only do the ballots move through the US postal system both ways (and the Department of Defense won't even spring for expedited service), but they must also move through the achingly slow military postal system.

The report goes on to list the main reasons behind the military voter disenfranchisement and then suggests some very simple solutions to alleviate this travesty and injustice. The four main reasons a high percentage of military personal unable to vote: (1) inability to participate, (2) lost and undeliverable ballots, (3) not enough time to vote, and (4) votes rejected for other state law reasons.

Soldiers tend to move around a lot and the government has not figured out a way to help soldiers make necessary changes to their voter registration information, or even just make the information readily available for the soldiers to do it themselves.

The 2008 election data makes it clear that a vast majority of military voters (an estimated 75 to 80 percent)[18] were disenfranchised by their inability to request an absentee ballot. This failure rests squarely on the DOD and FVAP.

In short, military voters do not have access to the same level of voting assistance as other Americans and that lack of assistance directly affects their ability to participate in elections.

How hard is it to understand that some of our military personnel are in WAR ZONES? Why is no one sympathetic to their plight and lack of participation in our most sacred right? Why did Nancy Pelosi allow a bill, introduced by Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) that addressed these issues, to expire in the 110th Congress? Why was this not an important enough civil rights issue for her to allow it to the floor for debate and a vote? Why is the fact below not plastered everywhere?

This low participation rate is as severe as any in the nation's recent history, including that which resulted in the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 to strike down the barriers to registration and turnout that kept black Americans out of the polls.[11]

I think we all know the answer to those questions and it isn't pretty. Bigotry and voter disenfranchisement in the USA is as disgusting now as it was in 1965.

Keli Carender is a graduate of the University of Oxford and a proud Tea Partier. She also blogs at Redistributing Knowledge.