Servicemember, Are You Ready to Vote?

ballot boxVoting: we take it for granted. So much so that when the federal election of 2008 brought out 61% of eligible voters, the media noted the “great” increase; only 52% of eligible voters participated in 2000, the last presidential election that had no incumbent. In federal midterm election years (where there is no presidential determination), the rates go down ever further: 38% in 1994, and 36% in 1990.

Military voter turnout is even less than the national average. In a Columbia University study, only 43% of eligible military voters actually voted in the 2000 federal election. The Pentagon commissioned its own survey in 2005 that produced higher results, but questions and concerns concerning validity and reliability of the surveys methodology leaves the results questionable.

The Federal Voting Assistance Program developed by the Department of Defense to help assist in increasing the number of military voters (and their eligible dependents) has fallen short of its goals. The Pew Center on the States (a member of the Pew Charitable Trust) has found through its Making Voting Work project that service members (and their dependents) either are not receiving effective assistance from their Voting Assistance Officer or are simply not receiving their ballots when overseas. Those service members deployed in combat zones are particularly affected by absentee voting; either they don’t get their ballots on time, don’t receive the correct ballots, or have their federal write-in ballot rejected by state auditors unfamiliar with this new ballot.

The Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment Act of 2009 hopes to rectify the problems of the past few years. It requires a 45-day post-election day window to receive and count absentee ballots. It requires states to have electronic voter registration and to be adequately trained to deal with the federal write-in ballot. The responsibilities don’t fall solely on the states; it also requires military and overseas voters to re-register every election cycle to ensure correct contact information.

It’s because of the military that we no longer have property ownership qualifications for voting. American Revolutionary solders came home to find out that they were good enough to fight for their country, but not good enough to vote because they did not own land. That issue was quickly resolved during and shortly after the war on both state and national levels.

Honor your predecessors. Exercise your right to vote; register to vote and then vote! When changing duty stations or being deployed, make sure you change your address. Contact your state’s voting office and elected legislators when problems do occur to ensure the next time these problems will not occur. Encourage others in your unit to vote. Every four years, this is your Commander-in Chief.


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