Jon E. Dougherty is a Missouri-based political science major, author, writer and columnist. Follow him on Twitter.
Secretary of Defense William Cohen has ordered the Pentagon’s
inspector general to review the military absentee ballot system to find
ways to improve procedures and recommend changes for future elections.
Yesterday, Pentagon spokesman Kenneth Bacon said Cohen had determined
that there was nothing that could be done to compel counties in Florida
to count discarded military ballots. Though Florida Attorney General Bob
Butterworth, Democratic vice presidential candidate Joseph Lieberman and
others had called for counties to “reconsider” their decision to throw
out those ballots, many of them still have not been counted.
“The secretary’s interest is to make sure we have a system that makes
every vote count,” Bacon said during his weekly Pentagon press briefing
Over 1,000 military absentee ballots were tossed out by Florida
canvassing boards, most of them because they lacked a postmark.
The postmark issue, in particular, is of concern to the campaign of
Republican George W. Bush, because Florida law indicates that if a
military absentee ballot is “otherwise” valid, no postmark is necessary
for the ballot to be counted.
Though other news sources have reported that the postmark is
“required” by Florida law, the actual provision, statute 1S, 2.01 (7),
says: “With respect to the presidential preference primary and the
general election, any absentee ballot cast for a federal office by an
overseas elector which is postmarked or signed and dated no later
than the date of the Federal election shall be counted if received no
later than 10 days from the date of the Federal election as long as such
absentee ballot is otherwise proper.”
Also, military votes traditionally favor Republican candidates — a
fact known to the Bush camp and likely an underlying theme in five
lawsuits Bush lawyers have filed against Florida counties that threw
those votes out.
While in the Mideast last week, Cohen instructed Pentagon officials to find out if it was possible to ensure that all military ballots received in Florida were counted. However, the Defense Department’s general legal counsel said the Pentagon had no legal recourse available.
“We cannot instruct Florida how to interpret its own laws,” Bacon said.
The Pentagon spokesman said Cohen instructed the inspector general to find new ways to ensure military ballots are received and, hence, delivered on time to voting districts in the U.S. Also, the IG’s office was asked to research legislative remedies that would help states count more of those ballots.
Critics of the Pentagon said Cohen’s directive would mean little in the long run for a number of reasons.
Active duty and retired military personnel have complained that the absentee ballot process is archaic — dating back to the 19th century — and has experienced little change or improvement throughout the years.
To its credit, the Defense Department has experimented with alternative balloting methods this year.
Some members were allowed to vote by fax under a pilot program initiated by Pentagon planners. Also, Defense Department spokesmen have told WorldNetDaily that electronic balloting — voting by secure e-mail, for instance — is an idea currently under consideration.
Ultimately, however, the Pentagon has said it is always possible that some military members — because of current operational considerations or deployment conditions — will not get to cast ballots at all.
Meanwhile, Republican members of Congress, angered by the tossing of so many Florida ballots, have said they will review the process themselves and write legislation to help improve the military balloting process.