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Mystery, intrigue surround military ballots
Posted By Jon Dougherty On 11/17/2000 @ 1:00 am In Front Page | Comments Disabled
Already parents are saving newspaper clippings and writing reports to
file away for grandchildren in an effort to accurately recall and
document for them what is shaping up to be “the year the courts chose
Many chapters have yet to be written, however, because the saga is
ongoing. Even now — ten days after the Nov. 7 election — America still
does not have a new president. Recounts in Florida, lawsuits, petitions
for legal opinions and threats of new litigation continue to be
exchanged between the campaigns of Republican George W. Bush and
Democrat Al Gore.
As long as the campaigns remain so bitterly divided, so too do the
American people, as charges of voter fraud, improper judicial rulings
and partisanship dominate the media coverage and the words spoken — or
shouted — between supporters of both candidates.
Behind the headlines and away from the cameras, however, the Election
Day 2000 drama is still being played out, often just one story at a
Military may sway election
Florida, with its 25 electoral votes, will almost certainly decide
the election. By late yesterday, Bush was still leading the vice
president by a slim, albeit incomplete, margin of 300 votes.
As both campaigns wage a battle in court over ballots already cast,
officials in the Florida secretary of state’s election office, the
Republican and Democratic parties, as well as much of the nation, now
wait to see the results of the absentee ballot vote.
Particularly crucial to the Bush effort, analysts say, are votes
coming in from overseas and domestically deployed military personnel. In
1996, GOP presidential candidate and former Sen. Bob Dole managed to
garner the lion’s share of the 2,300 overseas military ballots. The
Texas governor is expecting that most of the military vote will come to
him this time.
as WorldNetDaily reported even before the election, dozens — and perhaps thousands — of military members have complained that they either never received requested absentee ballots or those ballots were delayed — sent by slower fourth-class mail instead of first-class mail — or have been lost after the service members sent them back in.
One particular case epitomizes the anguish, frustration, intrigue and, in some military circles, mistrust of the way military absentee ballots have been handled in this election.
Early this week, WorldNetDaily was contacted by a woman reader whose friend has a son aboard the USS Hayler — a destroyer that arrived at its home port of Norfolk, Va., on Tuesday.
According to her report, the sailor said “nobody aboard” had been given an opportunity to cast an absentee ballot this year, including him. The reader said the sailor had his mother contact the local voting registration board to check on his absentee ballot.
When she did, the reader said, the voting registrar told the sailor’s mother that they had received her son’s ballot in September, even though the sailor adamantly insisted he had never received a ballot and had never cast a vote.
WorldNetDaily contacted the Navy about the report, and Cmdr. Greg Smith, a Navy public relations spokesman, said he contacted the ship’s executive officer about the matter. Smith said the Hayler’s “XO” denied that sailors weren’t given the opportunity to cast absentee ballots.
“The XO said no” to the report, Smith said. “In fact, he said every sailor that wanted to vote got a chance to vote [and] all ballots were mailed in 10 days prior to the election being concluded.”
Some even requested write-in ballots, Special Form 186, Smith said.
After Smith’s denial, WND recontacted the woman reader to relay the information. She said she had since been in contact with the sailor’s mother, who said both he and several others were prepared to talk to WorldNetDaily anonymously to personally confirm that they had not had a chance to cast ballots.
The next day, however, the woman reader contacted WND and said that no one onboard the Hayler would be calling.
“Somebody must have ‘talked to’ those sailors, because now big-time paranoia has taken over,” the reader said.
Indeed, the day after WND contacted the Navy about the initial report, none of the sailors was prepared to speak to WND any longer, and the mother of the sailor who reported the discrepancy even asked the woman reader to “lie” about the previous information she had given her, “to keep [her son] from being discovered.”
Vote intentionally suppressed?
Others in the military continue to tell their absentee ballot stories, though most are not nearly so cryptic.
A Marine officer who is aboard the USS Tarawa –
the assault ship
mentioned in a previous WND report as having mail left aboard until
earlier this week — said he also has not received a ballot. Worse, after taking an informal “poll” in his sector, he found that 13 others had sent in ballot requests but only six had received them.
“But I believe their ballots never left the ship in time to make it to the election,” the sailor said in an e-mail message. “The other seven never received their ballots.”
Navy officials have told WorldNetDaily that in extreme circumstances, personnel could request Special Form 186 — a write-in ballot used specifically for military voting purposes. However, the Tarawa sailor said though he “heard about the write-in ballot about a week before the election … I never saw a write-in ballot here,” adding that “it’s not like that information was often repeated over here.”
He went on to say that “mail on the Tarawa is atrocious,” and that the ship goes “several days without receiving mail, even in relatively ‘friendly’ areas.” When he wrote his message Nov. 11, he said it had been “about 12 days since we got mail, and we still have two more days before we get more, which isn’t definite.”
Navy officials have said the Tarawa was among vessels assigned emergency duty to assist the stricken USS Cole following the terrorist attack that left the ship crippled and 17 sailors dead.
The Marine officer acknowledged the situation, saying he understood “we have very few friends in our region of the world.” But critics have said the Cole attack should not have made much difference by Election Day — Nov. 7 — because the destroyer was bombed three weeks earlier, on Oct. 12.
A Navy spokesman yesterday told WorldNetDaily that “about a half-dozen absentee ballots” were contained in mailbags picked up from the Tarawa on Monday. The spokesman added that the mail was then flown to Bahrain and, “as far as I know, flown out to the United States on Tuesday.”
Because of the increasing number of ballots that either did not make it to military personnel in time, were not flown back to the U.S. on time or were never sent at all, some critics have suggested a plot to suppress the military vote because it is historically conservative-leaning.
Sam Wright, a lawyer in Washington, D.C., who has researched military absentee ballot issues and problems for two decades, said he didn’t think the ballots were being intentionally suppressed, but rather that the problem lies in “attempting to get the military to vote in the 21st century the same way everyone voted in the 19th century.”
Wright, who is also a captain in the naval reserve, said that as far back as 1952, President Harry S. Truman complained about an outdated military absentee ballot system.
However, Wright said, “it is curious that in the 1992 election — when Republicans were in charge — we didn’t seem to have problems like this, and there was a big effort made to encourage and facilitate voting by the military.”
In one irony, Wright said, a Sept. 1992 Washington Post article “criticized the Department of Defense and the
Assistance Program, suggesting that it was just a plot to get George Bush, the elder, re-elected.”
Reduced number of ballots?
On top of the apparent delivery problems surrounding military balloting, other evidence suggests that perhaps the long-awaited absentee ballots from personnel overseas may not show up in Florida in the numbers suggested.
Published reports said the number of ballots received during the 1996 election numbered about 2,300. According to officials with the U.S. Postal Service, however, so far in Florida, the number processed since the election doesn’t come close.
According to Enola Rice, a spokeswoman for the USPS, from Nov. 8 to Nov. 15, only 581 overseas military absentee ballots have been delivered through Florida.
Rice said she could not speak to the numbers of ballots heading to Florida that reached the U.S. via San Francisco or New York City. USPS officials promised to check those figures, but did not contact WND with them.
Monica Hand, a public relations spokeswoman for the USPS, told WorldNetDaily that all military mail coming from the Mideast — where the Tarawa is stationed — goes through New York.
As for whether the Tarawa and other Mideast ballots could make it to appropriate county election officials in Florida and elsewhere on time to be counted today, Hand said all the mail first would have to be separated before being sent on its way.
“All military mail is [sorted in] with regular first-class mail,” Hand said, suggesting that once it was received and processed, it would be immediately sent.
The current figure of 581 Florida absentee ballots from military personnel jibes with an earlier figure reported Wednesday by the
Village Voice. According to that report, by late Tuesday, postal officials in Florida said only 447 military ballots had been received.
“At that rate,” the Village Voice said — quoting a Washington Post analysis — “the amount of military ballots [by today's deadline] would end up at an underwhelming 750 — a far cry from the originally projected 2,300.
WorldNetDaily tried unsuccessfully throughout the day yesterday to contact Florida secretary of state election officials to find out how many military ballots had already been counted.
Also, WND has tried repeatedly to solicit comments about the military ballot problem from the Bush campaign without success.
Regardless of whether Clinton administration officials purposely directed postal workers to delay military ballots, whether Clinton operatives in the Pentagon are trying to suppress vote counts for Bush as some believe, or whether military balloting is simply antiquated, Sam Wright says it needs to be fixed.
“I’ve been researching this problem and trying to work to get it fixed for 20 years,” he said. “We’ve made some improvements in the states since then, but there is so much more to be done.”
He said because military personnel have to rely solely on civilian and military mail systems, “it simply takes weeks to get a turnaround.”
Wright said he liked the idea of a pilot program instituted by the Pentagon and four states earlier this year. In that program, about 50 personnel voted electronically using encrypted e-mail software.
Critics say that is an option, but electronic systems — while faster — can also break down. And, if this year’s voting problems eventually are proven to involve foul play, Americans probably won’t want a potentially corrupt administration in charge of counting all the ballots in a single — potentially hostile — voting bloc.
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