Overseas Troops Still Disenfranchised

USA Today – Barriers to voting remain for troops deployed abroad

Problems with military absentee ballots that clouded the 2000 election have not been fixed, jeopardizing the ability of more than 160,000 troops fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan to have their votes counted this fall.

Among developments that have election officials concerned:

̢ۢ A $22 million pilot program to develop an Internet voting system for Americans deployed overseas was scrapped after the Pentagon concluded it would be vulnerable to hackers intent on tampering with elections.

̢ۢ The Government Accountability Office (GAO), the investigative arm of Congress formerly known as the General Accounting Office, found that the system used to collect and deliver mail in Iraq, including absentee ballots, suffers from long delays and other problems.

• The Pentagon’s inspector general found that a Defense Department program to ease voting by Americans overseas, including deployed troops, continues to be given low priority by field commanders. Surprise visits to 10 foreign sites found seven programs ineffective and three only partially effective. Nearly three of every five troops surveyed said they did not know their voting assistance officer.

• A Pentagon agency charged with helping servicemembers and other Americans abroad vote is more than two months late in providing information for a report by the Election Assistance Commission on how states are doing and how they can improve. “I would like to have seen it out much earlier,” says Paul DeGregorio, a member of the commission, which was created to help solve voting problems.

The commission can’t finish its report until it gets complete information from the Pentagon, DeGregorio says. “I’m frankly disappointed,” he says. Military personnel “are sacrificing their lives. They have every right to think their government is going to help them participate as voters.”

Amazing. From a pure equity standpoint, this was arguably the most eggregious problem in 2000. Disenfranchising soldiers in harm’s way overseas is more problematic than undercounting people too stupid to punch a chad all the way through or ensuring that they don’t accidentally mark “Pat Buchanan” when they mean “Al Gore.” Now that we’re at war (and fighting back) it’s simply inexcusable that this hasn’t been solved.

The Federal Voting Assistance Program, a small office that is part of the Defense Department, said in a written answer to questions that it is “confident the military mail system will allow servicemembers to send in absentee ballots in a timely fashion.” The office said it is working with the U.S. Postal Service to give priority to ballots in specially marked envelopes.

More than 4 million Americans live abroad, including servicemembers and their families, embassy workers and civilians whose jobs take them overseas.

Studies show that military families are more likely to vote, and more likely to support Republicans, than others. But this year, military experts say long deployments, low morale and some disaffection with President Bush’s foreign-policy decisions may erode the GOP’s edge. Any problems with military voting could have the greatest impact on battleground states such as Florida, Missouri and New Mexico, which have large military populations.

In 2000, an estimated 29% of military personnel who wanted to vote did not get absentee ballots or received them too late. The impact was felt particularly in Florida, where hundreds of military absentee ballots weren’t counted because they arrived late, lacked postmarks or had problems with signature verification.

A study by the Pentagon at that time found that three-quarters of overseas troops it interviewed reported problems in voting. In a separate study, the GAO found that instructions from Washington to help troops vote were often given low priority in the field. The new studies this year suggest that those problems haven’t been fully addressed

FILED UNDER: 2004 Election, Afghanistan War, Military Affairs, , , , , , , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. R Gardner says:

    “Federal Voting Assistance Program, a small office that is part of the Defense Department.” Er, what do they expect it to be? 3000 people in the Pentagon? People are needed in the field, not sitting back in air conditioned DC. Fact is that every unit is supposed to have a “Voting Assistance Officer.” It isn’t necessary to know that person by name, but their message should get out (quick, name your precinct captain – but do you know where your polling place is?).

    Now, the fact remain that an estimated 1,500 FL military voters had their ballots invalidated due to lack of a postmark date on their ballot – being from locations whose postmark stamp had no date. Therefore they are disenfranchised.

  2. Joseph Marshall says:

    “Disenfranchising soldiers in harm’s way overseas is more problematic than undercounting people too stupid to punch a chad all the way through”

    How long, O Lord, will it take ’till my people get the message that there are to be NO second-class citizens, that voting is a right of citizenship and not a privledge of service to the state?

    The inequity of disenfranchisement is an absolute wherever and however it occurs. Speaking as a regular poll-worker, I know that avoiding disenfranchisement takes collective will, good organization, and well-spent money. Florida has a track record of deficiencies in most of this, but doing it right is possible and the most important thing is the will to do so.

    From the first assertion that one citizen’s vote is more important than another’s you have a crack in the will to make a fair election.

  3. McGehee says:

    No, JM, I’m sorry. But anyone too stupid to punch a chad all the way through isn’t disenfranchised by the state — he’s disenfranchised himself by being too stupid to follow simple instructions that millions of people were able to follow successfully in dozens of election cycles all across the nation.

    Go peddle your paranoia back at the moonbatcave.