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U.S. Department of Justice Building
In the wake of the Department of Justice’s New Black Panther Party scandal, a second former DOJ attorney has now come forward, blasting the department for failing to protect American soldiers’ right to vote.
What’s even more alarming, the attorney claims, is that despite congressional mandates passed in 2009 to ensure military personnel overseas can participate in elections, the DOJ’s Voting Section is ignoring the new laws and may allow thousands of ballots to slip through the cracks uncounted in November.
M. Eric Eversole is a former litigation attorney for the Voting Section of the U.S. Department of Justice and an advocate for military voters. In an opinion piece in The Washington Times, Eversole explains how soldiers in the field may be disenfranchised in the 2010 election.
“Absentee ballots must be sent to overseas military voters at least 45 days before an election to give those voters sufficient time to receive and return their ballots,” Eversole explains. “The Military Postal Service Agency goes one step further and recommends that absentee ballots be sent to war zones 60 days before an election.”
But legal complaints, news stories and studies all showed dozens of states failing to give soldiers enough time to vote in the 2008 election – resulting in tens of thousands of soldiers’ mailed ballots that arrived too late to be counted, perhaps enough to swing, for example, Minnesota’s closely contested election of Democrat Senator Al Franken.
Eversole cites the Election Assistance Commission in arguing that more than 17,000 overseas voters were disenfranchised in 2008 because their ballots arrived after the deadline. In Minnesota, which mailed absentee ballots to soldiers just 30 days before the election, Eversole contends, more than 500 military and overseas ballots arrived too late and had to be rejected.
Furthermore, a 2009 Pew Center report found more than a third of states do not provide military voters stationed abroad enough time to vote or are at high risk of not providing enough time. The study found six states provide time to vote only if their military personnel overseas return completed absentee ballots by fax or e-mail – a practice that raises questions about privacy and security.
Eversole contends that despite clear authority under the law to bring action against the offending states in 2008, the Department of Justice refused, a “misfeasance” Eversole says was “was more than Congress could stand,” leading to the passage of Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment Act of 2009.
The MOVE Act contains several provisions, including mandates that states make absentee ballots available electronically and, as of November 2010, provide 45 days for oversees ballots to get to and from solders, round-trip.
But despite the MOVE Act’s passage, states are still scrambling to change their election laws to comply with it, and, according to Eversole, Justice Department officials have already stated they’re willing to let states slide for the 2010 election.
“A law … is only as good as the people who enforce it,” Eversole contends. “In February, a senior official in the Voting Section … expressed the section’s willingness to work with states to submit waiver applications and emphasized the section’s desire to avoid litigation. Since February, the section has continued to advocate a position that would grant waivers freely.”
“In other words,” Eversole writes, “notwithstanding Congress’ clear mandate, the section continues to argue that military voters should have less than 45 days to receive and return their absentee ballots.”
Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, has been trying for years to pass legislation that would give soldiers overseas ample time to vote, including cosponsoring the MOVE Act.
Cornyn brought up Eversole’s charges in a meeting earlier this week with Defense officials responsible for ensuring military voting rights.
“I was very encouraged by what the Defense Department is doing in terms of marketing the new system to military and civilian personnel overseas,” Cornyn told The Washington Times. “But the bureaucracies at both the federal and state levels are agonizingly slow. And I am concerned with the process by which waivers are being granted. I want to make sure [states] aren’t being granted permission not to comply with federal law.”
“I want to make sure there is not a presumption that [states] don’t have to comply,” Cornyn explained.