Tagged: military voting

Afghanistan Military Ballots Delayed – For Five Weeks!

Posted by Jason Van Steenwyk

military ballot boxA box of absentee military ballots mailed from Afghanistan more than a month ago was hung up in the military postal system for up to five weeks. According to reporting by Army Times, the Postal Service’s mailing tracking number places those ballots at a postal facility in New York City. The tracking numbers were updated to reflect an arrival at New York City on Friday.

At least one of those ballots was mailed on September 27th, and placed in a special box with an unknown number of other ballots. The tracking code on at least one of the ballots in that box listed the ballot had not cleared Bahrain until Friday, November 2nd, which means there was a delay of nearly five weeks between the time the ballots were mailed and their arrival at New York City.

This delay is substantially longer than the delays anticipated by the Military Postal Service Agency’s own published plan, which specifies a mailing date of 17 or more days prior to elections from most APO codes in Afghanistan, and 25 days for those deployed aboard ship in the U.S. Pacific or Atlantic fleets.

The Military Postal Service Agency has primary responsibility for all mail issues affecting U.S. servicemembers outside of the U.S. When letters and parcels arrive within the United States, they become the responsibility of the U.S. Postal Service.

The news comes just days after a Russian plane carrying 4,700 pounds of mail crashed and burned at Shindand Air Field in Afghanistan (the aircrew all walked away from the crash.) An unknown number of military ballots may have been on board. Although elections officials are required by federal law to mail absentee ballots to overseas servicemembers at least 45 days prior to the election, many jurisdictions failed to meet that deadline. In some instances, the Department of Justice filed suit against some states, including Vermont and Michigan, to force state and local elections officials to comply, or to extend the deadline to receive absentee ballots.

Several calls to the U.S. Postal Service, the Military Postal Service Agency, and the MPSA’s own Postal Voting Program Manager, Vardar May, were not immediately returned.

Can I Register on Election Day?

Posted by Jason Van Steenwyk

Military election-day votingIf you’re a servicemember or family member, you are entitled to keep your home of record as your domicile, no matter where the government sends you. That means you can be away from your hometown for years and still be able to vote. But suppose you didn’t get an absentee ballot? Or you forgot to request one? Not all states will accept a late ballot, even if it’s postmarked on or before the date of the election.

If you are living outside of your normal voter registration jurisdiction, you may still be able to cast a ballot – even if voting absentee is impractical at this late date.

How?

Same-day voter registration.

Some states allow you to show up at the polls, register on the spot, and vote the same day. That’s great news for military families who move around a lot.

What states allow same-day registration?

As of early November 2012, the following jurisdictions allow same-day registration.

  • District of Columbia
  • Idaho
  • Iowa
  • Maine
  • Minnesota
  • Montana
  • New Hampshire
  • Wisconsin
  • Wyoming

Additionally, North Carolina allows same-day registration but only for early voters, up to three-days before the election. Ohio, as of this writing, allows for same-day registration from the last Tuesday in September through the first Monday in October – during the early voting period.

You can’t vote in your hometown local elections. But you can make your voice heard for federal elections, and for local and state elections in your current home.

Be prepared to prove your residency with documents like a driver’s license, bank statement, a set of military orders placing you in the new area, utility bills, bank statements, or other proof that you are a resident of the community you are voting in.

Also, be aware that there may be unintended consequences of voting in a local election. For example, if you register to vote where you’re living now, and then return home next year to go to school, you may find your eligibility for in-state tuition rates challenged. Voter registration is one of the things officials look at when determining your state of residency or domicile.

Help! I Didn’t Get My Military Absentee Ballot

Posted by Jason Van Steenwyk

military absentee ballotsIt’s hard enough to for military families to exercise their right to cast ballots every election, even under ideal circumstances. The serviceman himself or herself has a chain of command to help out, but it’s tough to remember to register or stay registered among all the other challenges of military life.

For example, some state laws require officials to purge voter records after you miss so many elections. They’ll send you a letter to try to verify your existence before they drop you from the registered voter rolls for your district or county. But the U.S. Postal Service only forwards mail for six months.

If you PCSed or moved more than six months prior, you probably didn’t get that letter.

This was a problem for a number of military members in Florida – a hotly-contested swing state in the Presidential election this year. At least 30 active duty servicemembers in the Tampa area alone were dropped from Florida voter rolls.

It’s too late now, barring a court order, to register to vote in Florida. The deadline was October 8th, a month before the election.

If you believe you are properly registered to vote, and you requested an absentee ballot, it’s getting pretty late in the game. You can download a federal write-in ballot via the Department of Defense’s Federal Voting Assistance Program. That will get your vote counted for federal elections, anyway. For state and local elections, your mileage may vary. You’ll have to contact your local election officials to get a write-in or provisional ballot for the down-ticket elections in your jurisdictions.

You can also use the FVAP site to download a state and/or local write-in ballot if your jurisdiction makes it available.

Is it too late?

Well, that’s where your state laws come in. In Florida, your ballot has to be postmarked by the 6th of November, and must be received by the 16th. There’s a 10-day window that your ballot can be late but still counted under Florida law. Other states have different cut-off dates. Hawaii, for example, does not accept late absentee ballots. Your ballot must actually be received by election officials by the 6th of November to be counted.

Can I Register on Election Day and Vote Locally?

Possibly. There are a number of states nationwide that will allow you to show up at your local polling place on election day:

As of early November 2012, the following jurisdictions allow same-day registration.

  • District of Columbia
  • Idaho
  • Iowa
  • Maine
  • Minnesota
  • Montana
  • New Hampshire
  • Wisconsin
  • Wyoming

Additionally, North Carolina allows same-day registration but only for early voters, up to three-days before the election. Ohio, as of this writing, allows for same-day registration from the last Tuesday in September through the first Monday in October – during the early voting period.

You can’t vote in your hometown local elections. But you can make your voice heard for federal elections, and for local and state elections in your current home.

Plane Crash Destroys Unknown Number of Overseas Military Ballots at Shindand Air Base, Afghanistan

Posted by Jason Van Steenwyk

All Destroyed Mail from APO AE 09382

Now we’ve heard everything.

military ballots lost in plane crashAs if the government’s questionable track record of failing to ensure deployed servicemembers have their votes counted wasn’t embarrassing enough as it is, federal officials are now saying that some 4,700 pounds of mail were destroyed in a plane crash at Shindand Air Base on October 19th, according to an Associated Press report.

It is not known how many ballots were on board. The AP reports that all the mail lost was from a single zip code – apparently not understanding that that zip code, 09382, is actually an APO zip code serving Shindand, Farah, and Camp Stone, or Herat.

That complicates the effort because the potentially destroyed ballots cannot be limited to a single county elections office stateside; the troops deployed would have homes of record from all over the country. If they already voted, they would have no immediate way of ensuring their votes were received and counted in their home counties in time to influence the election.

The deadline under federal law for county commissioners to mail these ballots to overseas military absentee voters was nearly a month prior to the crash, on September 21. So it is very likely that any ballots on board would already have been filled out, and were on their way back to the United States. This further complicates the effort to discover what ballots may have been missing initially, because simply asking troops whether they received their ballots a few weeks ago does no good if they were destroyed on the way back home.

What to Do if Your Ballot May Have Been Destroyed

The Federal Voting Assistance Project advises the following:

All military and overseas voters who have not received requested ballots from their local election official yet are strongly encouraged to fill out the Federal Write-In Absentee Ballot (FWAB) at FVAP.gov and return it as soon as possible. All military and overseas voters who have received a requested ballot from their local election official should complete it and return it as soon as possible.

If you receive your State ballot after submitting the FWAB, vote and return the State ballot as well. You will only receive one vote as the State will only count your FWAB if the State ballot is not received by the deadline. If your State ballot is received by the deadline your State ballot will be counted and the FWAB will be disregarded.

DoD Fails to Comply With Military Overseas Voter Empowerment Act

Perhaps there may have been an additional layer of accountability possible had the Department of Defense fully complied with the Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment (MOVE) Act, which directed the Secretary of Defense to ensure that there was a military voter assistance office established on every overseas military installation (outside of an immediate combat zone.)

A military inspector general found in an August 31 report that the Department of Defense had done so on only about half of the bases it was required to by law.

Furthermore, the implementation of the voter assistance program at the DoD was so haphazard and chaotic that the inspector general was unable even to get a comprehensive list of installations that supposedly had voter assistance offices established at all (see page 29 of the IG’s report).

The IG was unable to locate any voter assistance office at Shindand Air Base.

Federal officials have sent an advisory email to the various state secretaries of state and county elections officials. While the total number of ballots lost in the fire is not known, the breakdown in accountability may provide a ready-made source of enough found ballots to swing at least one election in a tight race.

According to a recent survey from Military Times, military voters are expected to support Governor Romney over the president by a margin of 2-1.

Poll: Military Voters Break 2-to-1 for Romney over Obama

Posted by Jason Van Steenwyk

Military voters break for RomneyRepublican presidential candidate Mitt Romney holds a commanding lead among uniformed servicemembers, according to a poll of active and reserve component members conducted by the editors of Military Times.

The poll found that two out of three uniformed military plan on voting for Mitt Romney. Only 26 percent are supporting the re-election of the president.

The respondents are overwhelmingly basing their vote on economics, rather than military-related concerns. Only 16 percent of them list national security concerns as the top reason for their vote either for Obama or Romney. Only 1 percent list the war in Afghanistan as their most important issue.

The President has actually gained slightly since 2008, when he received 23 percent of the vote in the same poll, running against Senator John McCain, the Republican from Arizona. And a 2004 poll by the same outfit found that 57 percent of military voters identified as Republican, compared to 13 percent as Democrats. Officers were more likely to identify with the GOP, by 66 percent to 9 percent Democrats.

The poll was not a randomized sampling, but instead a poll of subscribers to Military Times. The subscription base is 91 percent male and 80 percent white, with 35 percent of them holding ranks between O-3 and O-5.

While the poll’s oversampling of white, senior-ranking males can be expected to skew the result somewhat towards the Republican candidate, the findings broadly confirm a series of earlier surveys that found that Romney held an overwhelming advantage among veterans in many battleground states. Simply put if you are a veteran, you are markedly less likely to support Obama over Romney, whether you are still in the service or whether you have been discharged. It’s been a consistent pattern among military and veteran voters since Ronald Reagan.

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?

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.