COLUMN: Our Military Voters Deserve Fairness
With less than two weeks before the election, the campaigns of President Barack Obama and Governor Romney are fighting for every vote, while each campaign is spending millions of dollars on advertising and get-out-the-vote efforts. Despite all the time and money, a small but important segment of voters are being left behind as we approach Election Day: Our Armed Forces.
As a veteran myself with four sons currently serving in the military, I know our brave men and women serving in uniform have dedicated their lives to serve our nation and protect the freedoms each of us holds dear. Due to the nature of their service, constantly changing residencies and overseas deployments have made it much more difficult for our military personnel to carry out his or her civic duty to cast a vote. In order to secure a ballot, they must navigate a confusing array of federal and state absentee voting laws. Too many of our Armed Forces and their family members either are unsuccessful or give up after trying to make their vote count.
In order to provide fairness to our military and service members overseas, Congress passed the most comprehensive military voter reform in twenty years. The Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment Act (MOVE Act) of 2009 promised to provide military voters with a more systematic way to register and request an absentee ballot, eliminating uncertainty and providing military members with voting assistance on a consistent basis. The law provides military members with a voter registration form when they check into a new duty station. It is the same type of assistance provided to civilians at their local driver’s license branch. The law also designates funding to create voting assistance offices on every military installation, offering one-on-one voting assistance to those in the service.
Unfortunately, the Pentagon has not implemented these requirements set forth in the MOVE Act. Many of voting assistance offices were never created and our brave men and women serving in uniform have not been given the access to voting assistance that was promised to them. These failures have had a tremendous impact on our troops’ ability to vote. According to a report by the nonpartisan Military Voter Protection Project, the number of absentee ballots being requested by military members is down drastically in 2012. In some states, like Ohio and Virginia, the number is down by over 50 percent. This is unacceptable.
As Chairman of the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Military Personnel, I am committed to taking an active role in getting to the bottom of this inability to provide fairness to our military personnel, the ones who dedicate their lives to protect our freedoms. Voting is a right given to all American citizens and defines the nature of democracy. Last July, I held a subcommittee hearing on military and overseas voting with the purpose of learning what action Congress can take to improve these conditions for our Armed Forces. In September, I, along with a bipartisan group of House Armed Services Committee Members, sent a letter to Pam Mitchell, the acting director for the Department of Defense’s Federal Voting Assistance Program (FVAP), inquiring about the lack of implementation for the MOVE Act. Unfortunately, the Department of Defense refused to admit that they had failed to comply with federal law and claimed that military voting assistance is “the best that it has ever been.” Based upon my findings, these claims could not be further from the truth.
In many states, including South Carolina, there is time to request an absentee ballot so long as the military member is registered, which often occurs automatically when the military voter gets a driver’s license. These voters simply need to contact their local election official and request an absentee ballot.
For too long, our men and women in uniform have been left out of the electoral process. There is no other group of Americans that have sacrificed as much our military members and no other group has as much to lose in the coming years. With the looming defense sequester and the Obama Administration’s foreign policy strategy unraveling before our eyes, America deserves to hear our military personnel and overseas voters’ voices in this year’s election now more than ever.
*To request an absentee ballot, please visit www.scvotes.org or call (803) 734-9060.
Republican Joe Wilson represents South Carolina’s 2nd District in the U.S. House of Representatives.