Tagged: 2012 election

States Report Huge Drops in Military Ballot Requests

Posted by Jason Van Steenwyk

military ballotsLooks like the LOGPAC with your voting rights on it didn’t show up today.

The Military Voting Rights Project is reporting a gargantuan drop in the number of military absentee ballots that have been requested compared to the last presidential election cycle.

The problem is especially acute in Virginia – a battleground state – which is reporting a 92 percent drop-off in the number of service members who have at this point requested military ballots, compared with the 2008 elections.

The problem is not just limited to Virginia. The Military Voting Rights Project has found that the decline is nationwide:

Compiling data from Virginia, Florida, North Carolina, Illinois, Ohio, Alaska, Colorado and Nevada, Eversole’s organization found that military families have requested 55,510 absentee ballots so far this year. That’s a sharp decline from the 166,252 sought in those states in 2008.

Of these states, Virginia, North Carolina, and Colorado are battleground states, and Florida and Ohio are projected to be especially hard-fought. Military ballots alone have the potential to swing these states – and with it, the entire election.

The drop-off in military absentee ballot requests comes despite the passage of the Military Overseas Voter Empowerment Act of 2009, which was supposed to streamline the registration and voting process to make it easier for military members to cast votes. That law was passed after reports surfaced that only 20 percent of eligible military voters overseas were able to get their ballots counted during the 2008 election.

Among other requirements, the MOVE Act required elections officials to get absentee ballots in the mail to servicemembers at least 45 days prior to the election.

A number of states failed to comply, though, and the U.S. Department of Justice filed suit against the state governments of New Mexico, New York, Wisconsin and Guam to force state governments into compliance with the law. The Department also pressured Alaska, Colorado, the District of Columbia, Hawaii, Kansas, Mississippi, Nevada, North Dakota and the U.S. Virgin Islands, and reached an agreement with these entities out of court. According to Thomas Perez, a U.S. Justice Department attorney, one out of three troops stationed overseas during the 2010 election who wanted to vote were unable to do so.

New York failed to comply with the MOVE Act, and mailed its 2010 overseas ballots well after the deadline, using first class mail. The State of New York then rejected nearly one military overseas ballot out of every three returned because they arrived after the deadline.

And according to one report by AMVETS and the Military Voting Rights Project, only 4.6 percent of military voters were able to get ballots counted in that election cycle. While 41 percent of eligible voters turned out nationwide for the 2010 mid-term elections, when you factor in military voters who voted in person, the overall military participation rate in 2010 was about 11.6 percent, according to Eric Eversole, the author of the study and the head of the Military Voting Rights Project. [i]

The voting problems in 2010 were exacerbated by a failure of the Department of Justice’s Voting Rights project to update its website with details of the new law for nine months after its passage. The Justice Department also drew criticism from Senator John Cornyn (R-TX), one of the law’s sponsors, who also had reservations about the timeline. From a letter Cornyn wrote to Attorney General Eric Holder and the Justice Department:

States will have less than 17 days after the Democratic National Convention, which is scheduled for the week of Sept. 3, 2012, to prepare, print, and send ballots to our troops before the 45-day deadline for the general election. This short time period gives me significant cause for concern that some jurisdictions may not make the deadline.

A certain decline in the number of overseas ballots is to be expected: In 2008, there were over 100,000 troops deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. Those troops are home now, though we have increased our troop commitment to Afghanistan. 

The drop-off comes despite a detailed 2011 IG-inspection report that monitored DoD voter assistance programs in all four uniformed services and found them to be broadly in compliance.

Military voters broke for Bush over Kerry by 16 points in 2004, and for McCain over Obama by 10 points in 2008, according to the New York Times.

If you are a U.S. citizen residing overseas and you need to make arrangements to vote, visit the Federal Voting Assistance Program (www.FVAP.org). Or contact your unit voting rights officer or NCO.


[i] Military Voting in 2010: A Step Forward, But A Long Way to Go, Military Voter Protection Project & AMVETS Clinic at the Chapman University School of Law

Wisconsin Military Voters Told To Turn In Ballots…A Week Late

Posted by Debi Teter

During the 2004 presidential campaign, the satirical website The Onion published a humorous fake news story that depicted Republican operative urging minorities to vote… a day too late.

That was pure satire.

This story, though, is real:

Elections officials staffing the federal voting assistance website listed an incorrect deadline for receiving absentee military ballots in Wisconsin. The website listed November 16th as the deadline. The actual deadline is 4 p.m. November 9th – the Friday following the election.

Here’s a screen grab, taken from the Federal Voting Assistance Program’s website:

 

Wisconsin military voting dates 

The snafu was apparently first detected by MacIver News Service, itself an arm of the MacIver Institute of Public Policy. The organization is a Wisconsin-based think-tank that promotes conservative politics and ideology.

Wisconsin is considered a battleground state in this years’ presidential election. Military ballots historically trend towards Republicans. The error could have led to hundreds of Wisconsin military ballots arriving too late to be counted in the election. The error could have turned the state, in the event of a tight race.

Wisconsin has 10 electoral votes.

 If you are a Wisconsin resident, you can request an absentee ballot be emailed or to you by emailing your municipal clerk. Wisconsin does not allow you to return your ballot electronically.

According to a recent Pew study it takes 26 days, on average, for a Wisconsin absentee voter to navigate the absentee voting system, obtain a ballot, fill it out, and mail the ballot in where it can be counted. So backwards time-plan accordingly.

Wisconsin does not require military absentee voters to register ahead of time.

What I Never Receive My Ballot?

Fortunately, if Wisconsin – or any other state – fails to send your ballot on time, or if they sent it but for whatever reason you didn’t receive it, or you lost it, there is a back-up plan available: Download the Federal Write-in Absentee Ballot, or FWAB. This ballot, good in all 50 states, is intended for military and other absentee voters who haven’t gotten their ballots with 30 days or less left to go before the election.

Just write in your preferences – clearly and legibly, please, from your municipality’s sample ballot – and return it according to the instructions. 

Poll: Obama Losing Ground Among Veterans

Posted by Jason Van Steenwyk

obama 01President Obama is hemorrhaging vet votes. That’s the takeaway from this story from Politco.com:

“The Obama campaign had been hoping that veterans and their families — especially among the post-Sept. 11 generation that served in Iraq and Afghanistan — would be part of their path to victory: They’re a high turn-out demographic and concentrated in battleground states, with nearly 1 million each in North Carolina, Ohio and Virginia, and 1.6 million in Florida.”

Veterans have long tended strongly to pull the lever for the GOP – going back to Reagan at least. But according to Politico, the Obama campaign thought that they could draw younger veterans – those who are veterans of the Global War on Terror – into the Obama fold.

Romney is winning the veteran vote by 20 percent. Obama had held a lead with Afghanistan and Iraq vets last spring – before the GOP even had a candidate. But Romney has pulled ahead substantially: 48 percent to 34 percent.

Why has Obama lost so much ground among younger veterans so quickly?

Well, as hinted above, one issue is that Obama polled better against a generic GOP candidate with this crew than against Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan. The previous polls were taken during the GOP primary, with the Republican candidates tearing each other apart in the press and in debates.

Once their negative ads on each other stop, and Republicans could rally around a candidate, more and more younger veterans began to accept Romney as a potential commander in chief.

Obama, on the other hand, is clearly struggling with the mission in Afghanistan. The formal Afghan surge ended ignominiously this week, just as Allied forces in Afghanistan are reeling from a spectacular insurgent attack that took out six Marine jets and a squadron commander. American forces have also abandoned joint patrolling with Afghan forces in the wake of a number of “green on blue” shootings.

As a result, the Administration is floundering without a strategy in Afghanistan. The Taliban has successfully short-circuited a key element of U.S. engagement there. Afghanistan veterans are going to weigh this much more heavily than arcane fights about pension reforms when very few vets will be receiving pensions anyway. (Career military has been pro-GOP for generations. Democrats have historically had more success with non-careerists and enlisted ranks).

Obama’s credibility is also damaged by a series of gaffes, reported last week, including his apparent inability to say “corpsman” correctly and the DNC convention blunder in which they had a number of key speakers appear in front of a dramatic photo backdrop of Russian ships.

Finally, the Administration’s debacle in Benghazi, in which an American consulate was overrun, an ambassador murdered, and the Administration resolutely denied that the attack was even premeditated for a week, is likely to weigh heavily on younger veterans’ minds. Many of them have themselves served in isolated compounds in the Middle East and Afghanistan. The Administration’s optics with that foreign policy disaster are atrocious.

 

Are you a veteran? Are you supporting Obama or Romney in this election? Which candidate do you think will do a better job with both foreign affairs and domestic issues?

Absentee Ballot Deadline Passes – But You May Still Be Able to Vote

Posted by Jason Van Steenwyk

describe the imageThe critical 45-day deadline for mailing absentee ballots to military voters overseas has arrived. To comply with the provisions of the Military Overseas Voting and Empowerment Act of 2009 (The MOVE Act), county elections officials must be licking stamps and putting absentee ballots in the mail by today, the 22nd of September.

The law imposed four new provisions on elections officials:

  • The usual requirement for a witnessing signature on military absentee ballots was relaxed.
  • The law requires absentee ballots to be mailed not less than 45 days ahead of time.
  • Electronic ballots must be made available for download.
  • Acceptance of federal write-in ballots was expanded.

However, according to the Veterans of Foreign Wars, 22 states are still not in full compliance with all four provisions of the MOVE Act.

It’s Not Necessarily Too Late

Just because the mailing deadline for paper ballots is here does not necessarily mean overseas voters won’t be able to get a ballot. Many states and counties make their ballots available online for download, which saves quite a bit of time in transit.

To find out more information specific to your jurisdiction, register to vote, and obtain a ballot, visit the Website for the Federal Voting Assistance Program. (Civilians click here.)

History of Military Absentee Ballot Disputes

Military absentee ballots were a hotly contested issue in the 2000 presidential election, during which lawyers for the Democratic candidates for President and Vice President, Al Gore and Joe Lieberman, filed suit to block elections officials from counting certain military absentee ballots that were mailed prior to the election, but which were received after the deadline through no fault of the servicemember. The Democrats also fought to disqualify ballots that arrived prior to the deadline, but without a postmark.

It was not uncommon for military mail from overseas to lack a postmark at that time.

As the fight over Florida’s 25 electoral votes heated up in 2000, the Presidential election hung in the balance. With only hundreds of votes separating the two candidates, Democrats were concerned that overseas military ballots still arriving in Florida would tilt the scales in favor of George W. Bush, since military voters historically trend Republican.

A five page memo, authored by Mark Herron, an attorney for the Gore Campaign, surfaced, in which a series of strategies for local county level attorneys to disqualify military votes on various technicalities. The full memo is available here.

The memo was never intended to become public. However, a local Democratic attorney sent a copy to the county courthouse, where it became a public record.

Obama Campaign In Apparent Violation of Federal Flag Law

Posted by Jason Van Steenwyk

The Obama campaign has attached its logo to a likeness of the American flag. Using the flag for advertising purposes is a violation of federal law.

Obama campaign flag 

Under the U.S. Flag Code (Chapter 1, Title 4 of the U.S. Code), the law specifically restricts those subject to U.S. Law from using the flag “for any advertising purpose.”

From Section 3 of that law:

“Any person who, within the District of Columbia, in any manner, for exhibition or display, shall place or cause to be placed any word, figure, mark, picture, design, drawing, or any advertisement of any nature upon any flag, standard, colors, or ensign of the United States of America; or shall expose or cause to be exposed to public view any such flag, standard, colors, or ensign upon which shall have been printed, painted, or otherwise placed, or to which shall be attached, appended, affixed, or annexed any word, figure, mark, picture, design, or drawing, or any advertisement of any nature; or who, within the District of Columbia, shall manufacture, sell, expose for sale, or to public view, or give away or have in possession for sale, or to be given away or for use for any purpose, any article or substance being an article of merchandise, or a receptacle for merchandise or article or thing for carrying or transporting merchandise, upon which shall have been printed, painted, attached, or otherwise placed a representation of any such flag, standard, colors, or ensign, to advertise, call attention to, decorate, mark, or distinguish the article or substance on which so placed shall be deemed guilty of a misdemeanor and shall be punished by a fine not exceeding $100 or by imprisonment for not more than thirty days, or both, in the discretion of the court. The words “flag, standard, colors, or ensign”, as used herein, shall include any flag, standard, colors, ensign, or any picture or representation of either, or of any part or parts of either, made of any substance or represented on any substance, of any size evidently purporting to be either of said flag, standard, colors, or ensign of the United States of America or a picture or a representation of either, upon which shall be shown the colors, the stars and the stripes, in any number of either thereof, or of any part or parts of either, by which the average person seeing the same without deliberation may believe the same to represent the flag, colors, standard, or ensign of the United States of America.”

As written, that particular section of the law specifically pertains to anyone within the District of Columbia. However, Paragraph (g), Section 8 is perfectly clear:

The flag should never have placed upon it, nor on any part of it, nor attached to it any mark, insignia, letter, word, figure, design, picture, or drawing of any nature.

…and paragraph (i):

The flag should never be used for any advertising purpose whatsoever.

The U.S. Flag Code was passed by Congress and signed into law by President Franklin Roosevelt in 1942 as Public Law Public Law 77-623; chapter 435.

There is no penalty for violation of the U.S. Flag Code: Enforcement has been found to be an unconstitutional violation of the 1st Amendment of the Constitution by the United States Supreme Court. However, the remainder of the law, aside from the penalty and enforcement provisions, stands.

History of Flag Violations

This isn’t the first time the Obama campaign has come under scrutiny for flag displays. In 2008, a photograph taken inside an Obama field campaign office also raised eyebrows. In that photograph, campaign staffers in Houston had hung a flag with the idealized image of Che Guevara in the traditional place of honor, on the right (the left facing the viewer).

Che Guevara flag 

In that incident, the Obama campaign pushed back, noting that the Houston office was staffed by volunteers, and was therefore not an official campaign outlet.

In the present case, however, the flag is being sold on the official Obama campaign Web site, for $35 per print.

Here is a screen capture of the flag, in context on the Obama campaign website:

Obama campaign site 

A call to the Barack Obama campaign press office seeking comment was not immediately returned. We will keep readers posted if and when the Obama campaign provides a statement.

Publication of ex-SEAL book moved up

Posted by S.E. Davidson Parker

no easy dayThe publication of No Easy Day by Matt Bissonnette, an ex-Navy SEAL who participated in the raid of Osama bin Laden’s Pakistani stronghold, will be pushed up one week to September 4th, 2012. Publisher’s copies have already been issued, and copies of the text have already been posted to the internet. Pre-orders have exceeded publisher’s expectations, increasing the number of prints from the original 200,000 to 575,000.

One area of controversy concerns Bissonnette’s legal obligations regarding two non-disclosure documents he signed with the Department of Defense. Bissonnette did not submit the manuscript to the Department of Defense for a security review prior to contacting publishers, begging the question of security leaks. The other area of controversy is much more political; the book outlines a sequence of events regarding the death of Osama bin Laden that contradicts the information that had been released by the Obama administration. In addition, the publication coincides with a presidential election year; one quote from Bissonnette’s book has another member of SEAL Team Six stating shortly after bin Laden’s death that “We just got this guy re-elected.” The White House and the Department of Defense both refuse to comment on the matter.

It does not look like there will be any legal wrangling to prevent the mass publication of the book. Legal action against Bissonnette and the publisher has yet to be filed.

What do you think about the book? Do you plan on reading it? Tell us below!

Servicemember, Are You Ready to Vote?

Posted by S.E. Davidson Parker

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.