Pentagon’s Get Out the Vote Effort

Pentagon Leaders Tell Ranks to Get Ballots and Use Them [RSS] (NYT)

Capt. Scott D. Stewart, a 20-year veteran of the Air Force, remembers that voting on American military bases was always a low priority, with registration seen as “a free-for-all, every man for himself.” But this time, Captain Stewart, a 40-year-old Floridian, dropped his presidential ballot in the mail in late September. This time, the Pentagon wants 100 percent voter participation here and at many American bases around the world. The target may be impossible, but the advocates command attention: Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and Gen. Richard B. Myers, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Through e-mail messages, spots on military radio and television and orders down the chain of command, the message has reached bases like this one, a conglomeration of 1960’s beige and brown government buildings surrounding a military air strip 30 miles west of Tokyo. “It’s very rare that you see a four-star general getting on television, telling soldiers to register and vote,” said Captain Stewart, a base security officer assigned to help run the voter registration campaign, referring to General Myers. “It’s been a huge, huge push to get everyone registered. It was coming straight down from the secretary of defense.”


The policy, which was drawn up more than a year ago, comes in response to the problems in 2000 with military ballots, which in many cases arrived too late to be counted. “The Florida fiasco really educated everyone,” said Douglas L. Hardy, chairman of Republicans Abroad Japan, referring to President Bush’s narrow victory four years ago – a win helped in part by absentee ballots mailed by soldiers. This time, Mr. Hardy said, “The military is doing a fantastic job, to be honest.”

This is indeed a shift in emphasis. Decades ago, military officers prided themselves on being apolitical, ostentaciously refusing even to vote. Going back to at least the Reagan era, that began to change, as professional soldiers have become increasingly Republican. As long as there is no command influence to pressure troops to vote for one candidate or party over another, there’s no problem with this, other than as another sign that the military is becoming a political interest group like civil service employees or labor unions.

Update (1519): Kevin Aylward has interesting figures showing that military folks support Bush over Kerry by a 4-to-1 margin.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Bill K says:

    If only the administration was as open to voting from the general public.

  2. LJD says:

    Perhaps soldiers predominantly vote Republican because of their dedication to selfless service and value for freedom.

    I would bet that the military voter drive is completely nonpartisan. Whereas the dumbocrats create voter registrations designed to influence newly “registered” voters to support their candidate. I won’t even mention the visits to nursing homes to “assist” the elderly in checking the left box.

    It is absolutely shameful that military ballots were discounted in Florida. Even more so that Gore didn’t want them counted, because he knew they were primarily votes for Bush.

    Hopefully, I don’t break any blog rules, but I have a comment for Bill K.: What a lame comment. Inflammatory, unfounded, unintelligent,…

  3. Paul says:

    other than as another sign that the military is becoming a political interest group like civil service employees or labor unions.

    hmmmmm I’m not so sure I like that.

    Something to ponder.

  4. McGehee says:

    LJD, your response to Billk tracks what I was thinking, but with much politer language. Thank you.

  5. Cassandra says:

    FWIW, the message has been “we really don’t care HOW you vote — just vote”.

    No one is putting any pressure on anyone to vote in a particular manner. My husband looked at this whole thing with a very jaundiced eye but was very proud of the DOD when he saw how it was being handled.

    A lot of junior ranks DO vote Democrat anyway – that’s as much a function of demographics as anything else.

    As long as no one goes into the voting booth with them and places their hand on the lever, I see no problem with encouraging them to get informed and do their duty on November 2nd. The decision they make is up to them.

  6. ken says:

    No doubt there is a lot of group think in the military to vote republican, shared values and all that.

    The administration is just trolling for votes. They really don’t care about the soldiers. If they did they would not have lobbied to cut combat pay when our troops where on the ground in Iraq.

  7. Jim in Chicago says:

    Gee Ken why aren’t, you know, actual soldiers, sailors, marines etc going to vote against Bush then?

  8. ken says:

    Yes Jim, makes you wonder doesn’t it?

    But then the military ethic has never been strong on encourageing independent thought or for people putting their own interest first has it?

    Even when it against their own personal safety it is not uncommon for the officers to get the men to charge the enemy. How much easier is it for them to get soldiers, sailors and marines to vote republican? Not very.

  9. Brian says:

    I take specific issue with you. Let’s look at the facts. During the 1990s, under Democratic leadership, the military cost of living increase was pegged to the rate of inflation MINUS one percent for eight years. The current administration has done a very good job in backfilling all the underpay under the Clinton Administration. Second, Clinton alienated the military multiple times during the 1990s – trying to force through the “gays in the military” piece without Congressional support (the military doesn’t get to write its own laws), his staffers initially telling the senior military leaders that they weren’t welcome in the White House in uniform, cutting strength by 40% and increasing deployments 300%, paying for peacekeeping missions out of training funds, and failing to modernize and transform the force into what the United States needed in the post-Cold War environment. In that time period, the senior officers/NCO corps went from identifying themselves as 65% independent to 55% Republican. Anyone want to hazard a guess why? The current slate of Democrats have a record that they cannot escape. Bills to re-instate the draft have come from Democrats, not Republicans. Even Democratic claims that the military is being overextended are not followed up with action – none of their proposals differ significantly from Bush’s. In fact, the soldiers tend to realize the importance and the necessity of the Global War on Terror much more then that Democrats. Has Sen. Kerry gone to Baghdad lately?
    With that being said, the military still maintains a VERY strong norm of not politicizing the force. There is great pride taken in the fact that the military is not a political one (even though all the officers are promoted with Congressional approval, and the President nominates 3 and 4 star officers to Congress for approval). What is occuring is the military has strong opinions in private, and is non-political in public. It will be up to the Democrats to be “uniters, not dividers” and regain the trust of a group that has already suffered significantly at their hands.