In a few days many American voters will cast ballots for the next United States President, House of Representatives and certain U.S. Senate seats. This precious right will be exercised in comfortable and safe locations across America, usually in a school, church or public building.
For those who cannot leave work to vote on Election Day, extended early morning and early evening hours have been established at polling places so that citizens may vote before or after work. These polling places are, in most cases, located very close to their homes.
For those voters who may be infirmed or out of town on Election Day, provisions can be made to vote by absentee ballot. A simple application for such a ballot is all that is necessary. The process has been made so very convenient that there can be no excuse for failing to exercise this right. Nevertheless, some do not bother.
All of us know people who do not bother to vote, and we are also aware that some of these same folks complain the loudest about perceived shortcomings of their government. Their complaints ring hollow and are made illegitimate by their failure to participate in the election process.
Ironically, U. S. soldiers stationed abroad have had their rights to participate in elections curtailed by a seemingly uninterested bureaucracy. Our soldiers have often left American blood across the globe in fighting to preserve such rights for other American citizens. The Pentagon has demonstrated a lack of willingness to do anything to better enable these soldiers to have their votes counted. Congress has failed miserably to compel the Defense Department to improve the situation. By the time soldiers receive their ballots, it is too late for their votes to count. Current logistics of getting ballots to the soldier, time for voting, and ballots returned to the proper location, do not allow the votes to be counted in time.
The federal Election Assistance Commission estimated overseas and absentee military voting for the 2006 midterm elections at 5.5 percent. That is a disgrace.
Robert Novak, recently retired syndicated columnist and reporter, has been a long-time advocate for soldiers’ voting rights. He is an outspoken critic of the Defense Department’s lack of effort to clean up this scandal. One of Novak’s final columns before retirement related the story of recently retired U.S. Marine Corps Captain Charles Henry, who was serving off the coast of Iran in 1980. He received his 1980 presidential ballot too late to count. Henry writes, “Military people deserve at least equal opportunity when it comes to having their votes counted. Indications are that in November 2008, many thousands of service members who try to vote will do so in vain.”
Novak reported four years ago that the problems of 2000 overseas military voting had not been corrected for the 2004 presidential election. It is now 2008, time for another presidential election, and the Pentagon has done little to nothing to expedite ballots to our soldiers in time for their votes to count.
The fact that Congressional leaders have not demanded that the Defense Department clean up this shameful problem reflects a profound institutional character flaw of those in charge. Efforts by Rep. Roy Blount (R-Mo.) and Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) to address this matter have been met by indifference from Congressional leaders.
Both Congress and the Pentagon owe Americans an answer to this question: Why are active-duty soldiers stationed abroad unable to enjoy the rights they are being asked to fight to preserve?
Combat officers and troops in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere across the globe should not be burdened by a bureaucracy standing in the way of having their votes count. The paltry 5.5 percent of military votes counted in 2006 is a disgrace and massive injustice.
Speak to your senators and congresspersons and ask what they are doing to right this fundamental wrong. Ask Kentucky’s adjutant general what he can do to ensure that votes are counted for active-duty members of the Kentucky National Guard serving abroad.