US Military Voting: Silencing and Denying the Military Vote

Published on March 18, 2013

by Gen Jerry Curry (Ret.)
Clash Daily Guest Contributor

USMC-120918-M-IV598-001Many of our military personnel stationed overseas do not successfully vote in presidential elections; or when they do vote their ballots don’t count. It is criminal that the President and the Pentagon can arrange for our troops to die in the service of their country, but can’t arrange for those same troops to vote.

The Department of Defense could have ballots printed and flown to our troops at all our bases all over the world, have them filled out by the troops, sort the ballots out, fly them back to the U.S., and then have them deposited at voting drop off sites with plenty of time to spare. If legislation is needed to make this procedure legal and lawful, then let the President so inform the Congress and it will be done.

“So, why aren’t soldiers voting? In many cases they simply can’t, and they have their commander in chief, President Obama, to blame,” asserts American Majority Action CEO Ned Ryan writing in the Washington Times. Since most military service men and women are by nature conservative, they tend to vote Republican. The President and the Secretary of Defense are Democrats and they may not be as keen as they could be to see that our troops exercise the right to vote.

But Obama and the Secretary of Defense are only a small part of the problem. The Generals and Admirals running the Pentagon could easily arrange for every overseas military soldier, sailor and airman on active duty worldwide to vote. Of course this assumes that exercising the soldier’s right to vote is a high priority within the Pentagon bureaucracy. If there isn’t a high level of interest, a simple nod of the head by the Secretary could fix the problem.

Currently the Obama Administration counters our troops failure to vote by pointing out that fiscal problems, including the Sequestration and a shortage of funds, makes it impossible to properly implement the military voting program as well as the President would like. The problem is really not just a shortage of funds; it is also a shortage of will power and little concern for our troops being able to exercise their constitutional right to vote. We know that many in the Obama Administration may not be too eager to encourage military troops to vote. So, some of the bureaucrats in the Pentagon will not protest overly much if somehow the overseas voting program doesn’t catch fire and if the troops are “accidentally” shut out of exercising their constitutional voting rights.

At the same time, these very same people make it appear that they are trying hard to get things working properly, but normal bureaucratic snafus are making carrying out overseas troop voting procedures very difficult. So, it is up to the Generals and Admirals to see to it that all our troops are given the opportunity to vote, even if that includes asking Congress to pass additional legislation or to obtain the cooperation of the States.

In 2009 Congress passed the Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment Act which was supposed to facilitate military voting overseas, by opening a voter assistance office at every military installation. So the Generals and Admirals don’t need the President or the Secretary of Defense’s permission for their troops to vote, they just need to wake up and implement existing legislation — with energy.

No doubt in passing this legislation Congress thought they had fixed the problem. But clearly that was not the case. The fault for troops being denied the right to vote today is on the shoulders of the Generals and Admirals. If they can get food delivered to our troops worldwide, they can also get ballots printed and delivered worldwide to the same troops. Getting them cast and delivered back to the U.S. for counting should be no big deal.

So, why aren’t more of our overseas troops voting? They can’t because in many cases the apparatus for our soldiers to cast their votes, though authorized, is not in place and functioning. Where it is in place, sometimes it isn’t operating properly or ballots arrive too late to meet overseas voting deadlines; or for some reason or other their ballots don’t count. This is the kind of problem the Pentagon loves to fix.

According to the Election Assistance Commission, in 2008 there were over a million overseas military voters with too many Generals and Admirals asleep at the ballot box, or perhaps they just failed to make voting a priority within their commands. Then, only 4.6 percent of our overseas servicemen and women were able to cast absentee ballots — that counted. In the future the Generals and Admirals need to do a little better.

Image: Source: United States Marine Corps/ ID 120918-M-IV598-001; public domain

jerry_curryGeneral Jerry Ralph Curry (D.Min.) is a decorated combat veteran, Army Aviator, Paratrooper and Ranger. He enlisted in the Army as a Private and retired a Major General. For nearly forty years he and his wife Charlene have served this country both in the military and while he was a Presidential political appointee.