Barack Obama is president and commander-in-chief of the U.S. military, but after his attorneys argued in court that service members defending the nation deserve no special accommodation to vote, a number of elected officials are raising questions about the White House’s commitment to their rights.
According to a letter sent by several U.S. senators to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, an appointee of Obama, the federal department has failed in its obligation to make sure service members are allowed to vote.
“Because our service members move regularly between U.S. military installations and overseas locations, their mailing addresses are constantly changing,” said the letter from Republican Sens. John Cornyn of Texas, Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, John McCain of Arizona, Rob Portman of Ohio and Marco Rubio of Florida.
“This challenge makes it critically important that DoD be able to redirect blank ballots effectively and efficiently. Sadly, this is precisely where DoD has failed these overseas troops.”
Time magazine reported just one day before the election that soldiers, sailors and others in the U.S. military lean Republican, noting that while ranks are not a “monolithic bloc,” “the U.S. military plainly tilts toward the GOP.”
The senators said the problem had been identified much earlier and raised as an issue as recently as 2010, because the military was taking up to seven weeks to connect ballots with soldiers.
“These ballots are unlikely to reach these service members until after Election Day has passed,” the senators said.
The actions of the military under Obama, therefore, “could result in the imminent disenfranchisement of thousands,” they said.
“In the 2010 election, DoD’s Military Postal Service Agency documented widespread problems experienced by overseas military voters, and then made a series of formal recommendations to DoD to fix them,” the senators wrote. “It has come to our attention that DoD has failed to implement the MPSA’s top recommendations.”
They continued, “If DoD had followed this recommendation, it would have reduced ballot transit time by several weeks for many overseas service members who are trying to vote.”
And they cited the potential problems as “especially widespread.”
“We are perplexed as to why DoD did not do everything in its power to modernize the system … to eliminate this roadblock for military service members. … They deserve to have a voice in choosing their elected leaders. Our men and women in uniform should be able to participate in the very same democratic system of government that they defend, not be relegated to mere spectator status because their ballot never reached them.”
The Army Times reported just before the election that ballots apparently were being lost.
“We are investigating reports of possible missing military election ballots. We take this situation very seriously and expect to resolve this matter as quickly as possible,” U.S. Postal Service spokeswoman Katina Fields to the publication.
Wrote John Hayward in a commentary at Human Events, “It’s too late to do anything about the current election (good thing it’s not historic or anything like that!) but the senators asked Panetta to ‘ensure that DoD moves expeditiously to modernize its system for redirecting blank ballots, so that our service members do not encounter the same roadblocks to voting in the next election.’”
He also cited a Washington Times report that said the Pentagon’s own inspector general found that requests for assistance to the voter assistance offices on military bases had a 50-percent failure rate, and that fueled “the belief among military voter advocates that not everything has been done to ensure America’s soldiers have proper access to the elections they have sworn their lives to defend.”
The Examiner reported “scores” of absentee ballots from members of the military won’t be counted.
It quoted the Naval Enlisted Reserve Association expressing concerns over a system that cannot function to the point of getting military ballots to the polling stations on time.
Columnist Michelle Malkin took it one step further in that report, telling the Examiner that the “Obama administration has actively worked against pro-troop voting protection efforts.”
“The bottom line is that our military, those men and women who risk their lives to protect our freedom, those most deserving to exercise their right to vote, are being prevented from doing so. This is unconscionable,” wrote article author Susan Stallings.
The court arguments submitted by the Obama administration came in an Ohio case this year. The White House argued against making allowances for members of the military.
“President Obama’s lawsuit argued that providing special consideration for the unique challenges faced [by] members of the military by ensuring that they have every opportunity to vote is ‘entirely arbitrary’ and has ‘no legitimate justification’ in the law,” said a report from the American Center for Law and Justice.
The organization said Ohio’s attorney general has decided to appeal the ruling that banned special accommodations, because it could have “far-reaching and disastrous effects on the voting rights of the men and women [in] our armed forces.”
It was the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that said Ohio would not be allowed to provide members of the military three extra days to vote early.
The ACLJ’s friend-of-the-court brief had argued that such accommodations “due to their unique circumstances is reasonable and fully consistent with the United States Constitution.”
While Ohio’s legislature had addressed the concern by setting standards for early, in-person voting and extending it for military personnel, Obama attacked the idea.
His attorneys said the policy “treats similarly situated Ohio voters differently.”
The ACLJ said the argument would “roll back decades of military voting rights laws.”
“This is not just a mere matter of Ohio law; it is being appealed to the Supreme Court, and thus any ruling would affect military voting rights nationwide.”
The ACLJ statement continued, “To hold, as the Obama campaign argues, that our men and women in uniform do not deserve these special considerations, that providing them is ‘entirely arbitrary,’ and that there is ‘no legitimate justification’ for recognizing and addressing the unique situation that the brave members of our military face with regarding to protecting their right to vote would have disastrous affects on the numerous military voting rights laws that have been passed both federally and at the state level.”