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The chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee has asked
Secretary of Defense William Cohen to help ensure that all military
absentee ballots be counted in the state of Florida, even as Americans,
military members, veterans and other lawmakers express outrage over the
disqualification of those ballots in some Florida counties.
Following the disqualification of 1,400 military ballots from
overseas military members by a few county canvassing boards in Florida,
Sen. John Warner, R-Va., in a letter sent Friday to Cohen, called the
dismissal of these ballots a “matter of grave concern.”
“Our service men and women around the world are protecting the very
freedom that allowed our nation to proceed with the election on Nov. 7,”
Warner wrote. “Yet it now appears that some of those service personnel
may be denied the right to have their votes count in that election.”
Sen. John Warner, R-Va.
Of particular concern to Warner, the letter said, are county-level
decisions by election officials in some Florida counties to throw out
absentee ballots “which do not bear postmarks, although these ballots
were received in the voter’s state by the deadline set by state law.”
Though Warner admitted that some overseas ballots “regrettably” did
not include postmarks — and that such postmarks are “explicitly
required by Department of Defense directives and should have been
affixed” — the Senate armed services chief said the failure to include
postmarks on those ballots was the fault “not of the voter but of the
military postal clerk” who received and then shipped the ballots.
As chairman of the Senate committee, Warner said, “I am deeply
distressed that our soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines may lose their
votes through no fault of their own.”
Specifically, Warner has called on Cohen to observe the provisions of
the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act,
1973ff (et al) under Subchapter I-G,
Under those provisions, Warner said — which express “a strong federal policy to facilitate absentee voting by military personnel” deployed overseas during an election — “states are required to permit such personnel to use absentee registration procedures and to vote by absentee ballot in federal elections.”
Warner said the provisions point out that absentee registration and voting procedures include, “if necessary, the use of a uniform federal ballot,” and that “such ballots are to be carried in the mail ‘expeditiously and free of postage.'”
He added that those ballots “may be mailed at post offices established outside the United States, including … the military postal system (39 USC — 3406).
“In the Act,” Warner continued, “Congress recommends that the states assure that absentee ballots are mailed ‘to absent uniformed services voters … at the earliest opportunity’ and ‘expedite processing of balloting material with respect to absent uniformed services voters.'”
Since before the Nov. 7 election,
many U.S. military personnel
have complained that they did not receive their ballots, even though they had requested them in plenty of time and through the proper channels.
After WorldNetDaily’s initial stories, Florida
Scarborough called for a congressional probe into whether “something was done to inhibit [the military’s] ability to vote.” Also, a San Antonio, Texas-based
law firm is preparing to file
suit in federal court in the western district of Texas on behalf of military personnel who claim they requested absentee ballots for local and national elections but did not receive them.
“As Secretary of Defense,” Warner said, “you have the principal responsibility for implementing the provisions of the Act.
“Clearly the intent of both Congress and the Department of Defense is that every effort shall be made to handle absentee ballots as rapidly as possible and in accordance with the applicable law and regulations,” Warner wrote.
Though “not all military mail clerks” ensured that ballots were postmarked, the Virginia Republican said, “Capt. E.M. DuCom, USN, the deputy director of the Military Postal Agency, clearly confirms that human error — as well as time and operational constraints — results in some mail not being postmarked.”
Warner said he believed Cohen would agree that “the unique constraints faced by the military, and the failure of some military postal clerks to follow regulations, should not be allowed to disenfranchise members” and their families.
“These voters have put themselves in harm’s way in the defense of the nation and the rights of its citizens, including the right to vote,” Warner wrote. “It would be unfair, unjust if the failure to imprint a postmark, through no fault of their own, deprived our service members and their families of the right to join in choosing the leaders of our nation.”
Warner implored Cohen to be “consistent with applicable … law” and “join me in urging all of those entrusted with doing the final counting of those ballots to resolve such technical questions equitably in favor of” military members.
After the Florida absentee ballot count was completed, unofficially, Texas Gov. George W. Bush’s lead over Vice President Al Gore grew to 930 — a figure that could well deteriorate in the face of multiple recounts in just a few Florida counties, some of which have disqualified hundreds of military ballots already.
Nationally, there is growing anger and resentment towards the Gore campaign, Democratic operatives in Florida and some canvassing boards in the Sunshine State for rejecting the military ballots.
“All hell is busting loose among the citizenry of my town as to the treatment of our sons and daughters in uniform,” one writer from Bulverde, Texas, e-mailed to WorldNetDaily. “They had better right this wrong for the sake of all of us and our country.”
“Gore knows the military hates the Clinton-Gore record,” said another e-mail. “Gore is teaching us right off the bat how his administration would work. The way he is acting, nothing short of a revolution in this country will stop him.”
“What is this country coming to when they don’t recognize all of our military?” wrote another. “Their vote is important no matter what election is coming up.”
One activist, former Naval Reserve Commander Chip Beck, has even
called on veterans who are Bush supporters to fly the U.S. flag upside down “until further notice … even if it means four years.”
Other Republican legislators have been less inclined to believe, as Warner does, that military postal clerks simply forgot to postmark ballots in particular.
Rep. Spencer Bachus, R-Ala., issued a statement calling for “serious and detailed consideration” of the military ballot issue.
“I personally plan to pursue every avenue possible to highlight this unjust situation and see that culprits responsible for this scandal are dealt with at the highest level,” he said. “This matter cannot be allowed to stand unchallenged.”
Bachus added, “Given the concerted Democrat Party effort to throw out as many military absentee ballots as possible in the current Florida vote count … certainly no decent American would challenge the inalienable right of our soldiers, sailors and airmen to have their voices heard in the choice of their next commander in chief.”
Rubbing salt into the military’s voting wounds was the release of a
5-page letter by Tallahassee lawyer Mark Herron, circulated by the
Gore team throughout Florida, with detailed instructions on how to disqualify an absentee ballot — including a section on postmarks.
In response to this firestorm (one-time Clinton adviser David Gergen, interviewed on Larry King, reportedly called it a possibly fatal error by Gore), vice presidential candidate Joseph Lieberman called for a review of the policy in favor of the military absentee voters.
And Florida Attorney General Bob Butterworth, a supporter of Vice President Al Gore and Democratic elector, has now advised counties that they “should count” overseas ballots, even if they bear no postmarks.
“No man or woman in military service to this nation should have his or her vote rejected solely due to the absence of a postmark,” Butterworth said in a letter to the state’s 67 counties, according to the Associated Press.