Jon E. Dougherty is a Missouri-based political science major, author, writer and columnist. Follow him on Twitter.
A Florida congressman has written to the House Armed Services Committee
to request an investigation into why numerous military personnel — many
who are self-proclaimed Republican supporters of George W. Bush — are
complaining that they did not receive requested absentee ballots in time
to vote in this year’s presidential election.
Rep. Joe Scarborough, R-Fla.
Rep. Joe Scarborough, R-Fla., in a letter to Rep. Floyd Spence, R-S.C.,
said an investigation was warranted due to “numerous reports that our
military men and women were unable to vote in Tuesday’s election due to
delays in receiving absentee ballots.”
“As you know, Pentagon spokesman Kenneth Bacon discussed the matter at
length during a briefing yesterday,” Scarborough said. Though Bacon
denied Pentagon culpability, the Florida Republican said he had
“received several e-mails from military servicemen and women and their
dependents this morning complaining that they did not receive absentee
ballots they had requested.”
On Tuesday, Bacon told reporters that the Pentagon was not responsible
for sending out military absentee ballots. And in subsequent
conversations with a Pentagon spokesman, WorldNetDaily has been told
that military personnel stationed overseas or away from their state of
residence must themselves request absentee ballots from those states.
However, Scarborough said personnel he spoke with claimed to have
followed standard procedure — but still failed to receive ballots.
Rep. Floyd Spence, R-S.C., chairman of the House Armed Services
“I have personally spoken to several of these individuals who claim they
followed normal procedures but never received their ballots,” the
To bolster his request, Scarborough also said “several published reports
over the past several days” have cited “reports of problems with
military absentee voting.” The first of those stories
Saturday by WorldNetDaily.
“While I understand the individual servicemen and women must request absentee ballots through their respective election offices, I believe these widespread reports of delivery problems merit an investigation by the committee,” the letter said.
“Men and women in the military have every right to vote on who their next commander-in-chief will be; if something was done to inhibit their ability to vote, the public has a right to know,” wrote Scarborough.
A spokesman at the House Armed Services Committee had no comment on the letter.
At issue are a number of complaints made by active-duty military personnel who said they had asked for — but never received — absentee ballots and hence were unable to vote last Tuesday. The problem has been exacerbated by the presidential election as GOP nominee George Bush and Democratic rival Al Gore await completion of a legally mandated recount of votes in Scarborough’s state of Florida, where 25 electoral votes — and the presidency — are at stake.
Analysts have said that in a close race — or a Gore win after a recount — the military absentee ballots would be crucial to the Bush campaign because a large majority of military personnel historically vote Republican.
WorldNetDaily tried a number of times yesterday to contact the Election Board offices at the Florida Secretary of State’s office to inquire about the number of absentee ballots the state had received thus far, but the telephone was busy most of the day and messages that were left went unanswered because election officials are busy with the state’s recount.
A Pentagon spokesman who asked not to be identified told WorldNetDaily yesterday that 176,492 military personnel list Florida as their home state, and that currently 24,241 were stationed overseas. However, the spokesman did not know how many overseas personnel from Florida requested or were sent absentee ballots.
Kenneth Bacon, assistant secretary of defense for public relations, confirmed for reporters during a briefing yesterday that states, including Florida, would not know how many absentee ballots to expect from the number of ballots requested.
Regarding complaints about service personnel not receiving requested ballots, the anonymous Pentagon spokesman said there were “scattered complaints every election,” but that the Defense Department was not aware of “widespread reports” of missed ballots. The spokesman also said Defense did not keep records or statistics of numbers of complaints or which states complaining personnel lived in.
Bacon reiterated that records were not kept “contemporaneously” on how many personnel wanted to vote but could not. He said the Federal Voting Assistance Program, which assists military members with voting, generates a post-election report that surveys 20,000 military personnel and asks how many had problems voting.
On Wednesday, Secretary of Defense William Cohen also said he was not aware of any widespread problems regarding troops who could not get ballots, but instead said there may have been “more routine problems.”
Because of sudden changes in assignments or other circumstances, service members “might not get your ballot,” Bacon said. “So there will be people who fall between the cracks. It’s unfortunate.”
However, many of the complaints received by WorldNetDaily and Scarborough were from service members who were not in unique circumstances or otherwise unreachable by mail.
Also, many who complained said 2000 was the first election year in which they had not been able to get a ballot, even though they had followed standard procedure:
“I’m a frustrated Coast Guard officer who has been trying to secure an absentee ballot from the state of Michigan. I initially requested my absentee ballots for the primary and general election back in February. I received the ballot for the primary, and voted. I never received my ballot for the general election. I began to get concerned and sent a second letter 3-4 weeks ago requesting the absentee ballot to no avail. I am a registered Republican.
“My neighbor, an officer in the USN, never received his absentee ballot from Florida — he’s even more upset than me. This seems too widespread to be a coincidence.”
“My son-in-law who is an Air Force officer in Iceland did not receive his absentee ballot until November 7, 2000 — too late too get it postmarked and mailed!! It was ordered well in advance of the election!”
“Failure to receive an absentee ballot didn’t just happen to military people overseas. I have a young Air Force staff sergeant who lives next door to us in Montgomery, Ala., who has been complaining about not getting her absentee ballot. And she hasn’t gotten a satisfactory answer as to why she didn’t get a ballot after requesting one.”
“I am a retired U.S. Navy chief. I can tell you flat out ‘some’ absentee ballots do not get to service members.”
“While my husband was registered for South Dakota … his military absentee ballot never arrived where he was deployed. My husband, an Air Force pilot stationed in Indian Springs, Nev., was deployed 82 days in Bosnia. He was able to receive a magazine sent by me through the postal system (it took one week), and he received two cards from his former boss in South Carolina. The mail sent was at the beginning and end of his deployment to an APO address. Yet, he never did receive his absentee ballot. My husband knows he did give plenty of time to send out for his. I am outraged at how this election has been run.”
“I am an instructor at a small community college in eastern North Carolina. Several of my students are the wives and girlfriends of military personnel stationed out of Cherry Point, N.C. Before the election, I reminded every class of students to vote and encouraged them to encourage their friends and family to vote. After the election, I praised the students who took the time to vote. You would not believe how many of those military wives and girlfriends came to me after the election and told me that their husbands and boyfriends had not been allowed to vote because of delays in getting their ballots.”
“I live in Southern Oregon, and my younger brother is stationed in San Diego. He just returned from service in Korea, and he did not get his absentee ballot.”