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Less Than 5 Percent of Military Votes Count, Experts Say

by Wendy Innes, published

Voting, one of the most sacredly held rights of the American people, is often denied to service members who are away from home at election time and it seems there are a number of reasons. Even though there have been some changes made to electoral law that certainly help, some election experts don't believe they go far enough to stop the disenfranchisement of military voters.

"The predominate issue surrounding military votes are the disenfranchisement of military members," said Michael James Barton, an election judge who has also served as a roving election observer over four states. "In essence, 45 days is required to enable military to vote, but clerks of court all around the nation will send out absentee applications or absentee ballots after the deadline is passed -- all but ensuring that the ballot will arrive after election day."

According to the 2009 Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment Act (MOVE), states are required to not only mail absentee ballots to all military voters at least 45 days before a federal election, but they are also required to provide electronic delivery options for election materials, and to eliminate the notary requirement for absentee ballots.

The MOVE Act also requires the Department of Justice (DoJ) to provide implementation assistance to states and to work with the Department of Defense (DoD) to implement the law as well as laying out specific requirements of the defense department. In particular, it required the DoD to return all overseas military ballots via express mail and to create voter registration agencies on every military installation across the globe. These changes would maximize opportunities for service members to exercise their voting rights. The MOVE Act further specified that all changes had to be completed by the November 2010 election.

So did it work? Experts say yes and no. According to the Military Voter Protection Project (MVPP), the changes helped but they didn't go far enough. Their report in 2010 found that fewer members voted and that many states were still not complying with the 45 day requirement for ballots, something they estimate left 65,000 military voters out in the cold.

"24 states participated in the report, which showed that of 300,000 plus absentee ballots requested by military personnel, less than a third were counted in the election," said Barton.

"Keep in mind that military absentee ballot requests were down in the 2012 election, confirming what I had been hearing when I was at the Pentagon from front line commanding officers; people don't think their votes are going to be counted, so why bother?"
. Individual votes count at the state level and then the members of the electoral college from that state cast their ballots.

Barton raises an interesting question; will those individual votes matter? The truth is that they might, but then again they might not

In some states, the popular vote directly determines who the electors vote for, and in other states electors can cast their vote for whomever they choose. This happened in 2000 in Florida, when Al Gore won the popular vote, but the electoral votes from the state went to George Bush.

According to the MVPP, just 4.6 percent of the nearly 2 million eligible military voters cast a ballot in 2010 that counted, well below the 15.8 percent who requested ballots. This is significant because even though a member casts a ballot, there is no guarantee that the ballot will count.

Slow postal service, arcane election rules at the state or local level, and court delays mean many ballots that were cast in good faith won't be counted. In New York, for example, in the 2010 election, nearly a third of ballots didn't count.

The MVPP addresses this problem by suggesting the use of more electronic options, such as email ballots or secure online voting. These have the potential to make a huge difference in the disenfranchisement of military voters, but implementing them could carry a hefty price tag.

Barton says it's shameful that our men in women in uniform are so often unable to exercise one of the most important rights that they have pledged  to defend. " The people protecting us deserve better, and if anyone's vote should count its theirs," he said.

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