In Virginia, 92% of Military Voters Didn’t Have a Chance to Vote in 2012

While the entire military voting system is broken, there are some states whose military absentee voting records are particularly shocking, and it seems that the Department of Defense and state voting officials are simply passing the buck — pointing the finger at each other as the problem. In the end, it adds up to the disenfranchisement of military voters.

According to a report from the Military Voter Protection Project (MVPP), the picture during the 2012 election was not pretty, and unless something serious is done, the 2014 election isn’t looking too rosy either.

The report stated that, despite the MOVE Act of 2009, which should have increased the available voting opportunities for service members, the opposite happened. It surveyed 8 states with large military populations and found that not only was there a huge drop in the number of ballots between 2008 and 2012, but all the assistance that the DoD was supposed to provide to aid voters was virtually non-existent.

Virginia is the home of the country’s Navy, in addition to a large number of service members from all other branches as well. But in 2012, of the 126,251 voters, there were just 1,746 ballots requested as of September 2012. Bearing in mind that, by law, ballots are supposed to be supplied no less than 45 days prior to elections, this means that 92 percent of eligible military voters didn’t have the opportunity to vote.

According to Pew Trust, all states, except New York, comply with the 45 day requirement of the MOVE Act. New York sought, but was denied, a waiver for this requirement, and it remains to be seen what will happen to voters in that state in the coming election.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t just Virginia that had this problem. All eight of the military heavy states surveyed by the MVPP found similar situations. Florida, North Carolina, Illinois, Ohio, Alaska, Colorado, and Nevada saw staggering drops in the number of military absentee ballots.

According to Eric Eversole, executive director of the MVPP, about two-thirds of military members and their spouses need to vote by absentee ballot, but he says:

It is possible that some of these service members and their spouses requested ballots from their home states, but that still leaves a large percentage of voters left out in the cold.

Eversole says that personal responsibility does factor into that small number. However, he thinks the bigger part of the problem is that the system is broken.

Military members don’t get the same support that civilian voters get through social service organizations and motor vehicle departments. According to the MOVE Act, military members are supposed to update their voter information upon checking in at new duty stations, but this seldom happens.

Eversole doesn’t blame the MOVE Act for the sharp decline of military voting opportunities. In fact, it is just the opposite. Eversole lays the blame solely with the DoD.

“We’re not seeing the same level of emphasis [on military voting] that we saw four years ago,” the former Navy JAG Corp officer said in an interview with Watchdog.org.

Eversole blames “the federal bureaucracy and a little bit of stubbornness by the Department of Defense. The buck stops at the Federal Voting Assistance Program.”

Critics of the report say that it doesn’t take into account that these states have cleaned up their voter rolls, meaning that ballots are no longer being sent to voter’s old addresses.

The Federal Voting Assistance Program (FVAP) has, in the past, acknowledged some of the problems that military members have experienced in exercising their rights to vote, including the inability to get services from the voting assistance offices on military bases and voting assistance officers lacking the training required to hold the post.

Even those at the state level find it difficult to deal with the DoD when it comes to absentee voting issues. Don Palmer, secretary of Virginia’s State Board of Elections, said in the Watchdog.org article:

With all these difficulties in casting a ballot, it’s no wonder why military members have simply given up.

Michael James Barton, election judge and roving election observer said, in an interview:

“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?”

According to Pew, implementation of MOVE requirements will be the key to success in the 2014 election. New York is the wild card since it has no law currently to account for the 45-day requirement.

Our nation’s military has given so much, with more than a decade of intense conflict, both on the battlefield and in the halls of our government, and it’s disgraceful. They deserve better than what they’ve been getting, but fixing the problem doesn’t seem to be a priority lawmakers. Perhaps that will change in the coming election.