Pentagon defends military voting assistance
September 5th, 2012
08:43 PM ET

Pentagon defends military voting assistance

By Jennifer Rizzo

Assistance to military voters is the best it has ever been, the Pentagon said on Wednesday in rebutting criticism that it is not helping troops navigate the voting process.

"Voting assistance for our absentee military and overseas citizen voters has never been better," said Pam Mitchell, the acting director of the Federal Voting Assistance Program, which oversees the effort.

Mitchell listed avenues like outreach through social media websites, the availability of call centers, unit officer help and voting assistance offices as examples of the options available to service members requesting voting information.

A recent report, however, from a military voting advocacy group found that requests from service members for absentee ballots are remarkably low this year, specifically faulting the Defense Department's voting assistance offices.

"The absentee ballot data for 2012 paints a bleak picture for military voters," a report from the Military Voting Participation Project said.

In Virginia, North Carolina, and Ohio fewer than 2% of all active duty military members and their spouses have requested absentee ballots for the November election. Between 5% and 8% of military voters in Illinois, Colorado, Nevada and Alaska have made the same request. In Florida, almost 16% have requested ballots, the report showed.

Ohio, Colorado, North Carolina, Virginia, Nevada and Florida are battleground states in the upcoming presidential election.

States profiled were those that had the most accurate and up to date information, according to the group.

The report estimates roughly two thirds of all military voters would need an absentee ballot to vote.

"The fact is that an incredibly small percentage of military voters are requesting absentee ballots for the 2012 election, even though a majority of military members will need to vote by absentee ballot," the report found.

The group expects absentee ballot requests to increase in coming weeks but said the "alarming and significant decrease" will make it tough to meet 2008 request levels. Roughly 19 percent of military voters requested an absentee ballot in 2008, according to the Election Assistance Commission.

"Our service members have made tremendous sacrifices especially over the last decade and they should have a reasonable and fair opportunity to have their voices heard on Election Day," said Eric Eversole with the Military Voter Protection Project.

Congress approved a law in 2009 to help streamline military voting, mandating that assistance offices be established on every installation, except for those in war zones. The Defense Department said 221 offices have been set up.

The Pentagon's inspector general's office tested the claim using contact information available to service personnel. However, the agency watchdog said in a report that it was only able to reach about half of the offices listed.

"The contact information that they used to try to establish contact with the installation voter assistance offices very simply was outdated," Mitchell said at a Pentagon briefing on Wednesday. "Why was it outdated? Because in a military environment things change. Military members are reassigned."

Mitchell said the voter assistance effort has since called all of the offices to be certain the contact information posted on their website is correct.

"We are committed between now and the general election (to) calling each of the 221 offices every single week to make sure that we have the most updated information," she said.

The inspector general's office also found that some of the voter assistance offices were not walk-in friendly and that cost was a reason why the Pentagon had not established all of the offices as intended by law.

The Defense Department does have some concerns. It believes that the voter assistance offices are ineffective and not the most cost efficient way to reach out to service personnel between 18 and 25, the largest segment of the military population.

"They suggested assistance might be provided more effectively and efficiently by targeted advertising, technology, like Twitter and Facebook, and online tools, supplemented by well-trained unit voting assistance officers, who are already in place," inspector general's report said.

Inspector general's report recommended a legislative proposal to release the Defense Department from the requirement that every installation have a voting assistance office, and instead allow the military to decide what voter assistance services work best on each installation.

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Filed under: 2012 Election • Military
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  14. Dan Austin
    Military voter registration is down 92% over 2008 in Virginia, and the new system put in place in 2009 is considered dysfunctional.

    This is not considered news, because the military normally votes republican.

    This is just one arm of the effort by the Obama administration to win re-election - unless you have a better explanation as to why registration is way down in one particular state by a group who overall dislikes Obama.

    Which is worse, military voter registration down by 92% in VA since 4 years ago, or the fact that major news agencies don't consider it newsworthy that the new military voter registration program under Obama is not in place and not working?

    October 1, 2012 at 7:48 am | Reply
    • jwight01

      Go back and read 82d's initial post – it says it all. There is no conspiracy to keep military members from voting.

      October 13, 2012 at 2:33 pm | Reply
  15. Elizabeth

    Perhaps requests are down this year because Gore and others previously sued to have them disallowed. You kind've hate to be thrown head first from a horse twice! Get these fine men and women a better system. Stop making excuses and do it in time fro this upcoming election in 2012. The public isn't fooled.

    September 24, 2012 at 10:29 pm | Reply
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  17. KK

    Do all these people think that the military members are not smart enough to request a ballot? Seriously!! The fact remains, the Services can pass out as many of these things that they want too. They have to be mailed back in. Also, with all the online options, Service members dont have to request them from their states anymore! They use a generic absentee ballot.

    September 6, 2012 at 3:23 pm | Reply
    • KRM

      Well if old people, students, and minorities are too stupid to obtain ID to vote in order to comply with Voter ID laws...then yeah sure I guess the military is too dumb to get their own ballots 🙂

      September 13, 2012 at 4:07 am | Reply
  18. U.S.A.F. Vet

    "An order which is unlawful not only does not need to be obeyed, but obeying such an order can result in criminal prosecution of the one who obeys it. Military courts have long held that military members are accountable for their actions even while following orders - if the order was illegal."

    September 6, 2012 at 9:13 am | Reply
  19. Texan

    No excuse with the internet these days to find information for each state, request ballots, etc. Even astronauts can do it. Maybe they just don't want to participate.

    September 6, 2012 at 9:11 am | Reply
  20. J.V.Hodgson

    This is a typical media generated non issue. Why? It's the same as the old saying: "You can take horse to the water but you cannot force the horse to drink. I know not of the military help or assistance never been in the military. But I have been overseas and wanting to vote absentee basis many times as Business man in many different locations, some where it proved inordinately difficult where to go to get the right or privilege, and sometimes what were almost laughable and ridiculous requirements to do it... but I never failed.
    Forget turnout levels... all these guys and gals know what they can do and probably a lot more easily than my experince on occasions. WE/YOU cannot force them to vote just give them the opportunity like everyone else many of whom don't vote either.
    Add to that this survey might be relevant in early October not now. Add to that a lot more US troops are Home not in Iraq or Afgahnistan than 2010. Lies damn lies and statistics??

    September 6, 2012 at 1:58 am | Reply
  21. GLJ

    @82d, first thank you for your service. I know when I was deployed overseas (AF) we had places on base where we could obtain the information on voting, requesting ballots, etc. This was back in the 80s (I left the AF in 91).

    But, that being said, of all people that should vote, it is the military. The President affects them directly as to whether they deploy or not.

    September 6, 2012 at 1:14 am | Reply
    • Steven

      I disagree, and I am in the service and have deployed. Of all the citizens with the chance to vote, the military has earned the right to choose not vote. Just because a soldier chooses not to vote, doesn't mean they didn't care enough to vote. I went to a combat zone to defend every citizen's right to make that choice, and if I choose to participate, or not participate, that is my right. I find it ironic the amount of civilians (not the OP obviously) that insist they know best how I should or should not express my rights.

      September 12, 2012 at 4:33 pm | Reply
  22. AL

    I hope that the ballots that our troops are counted this time around, those number should show that they don't want the likes of Obama to lead them for they know and are aware that when most of their fellow members of the military return home, after leaving the conflict zones will be given their walking papers and Obama will have his signature on that bottom line. Our troops deserve a better leader and not a good speech reader. And since they are working and defending their votes should count much more than those that are not working.

    September 5, 2012 at 11:18 pm | Reply
  23. 82d

    Just because requests are down for ballots doesn't mean it's a fault of the Government – it's actually doing a really good job of making available the resources to vote, if that's what you want to do of course. I'm a deployed Soldier with the 82d Airborne, and I walk by the Voter Assistance Office everyday. They have a big sign on the window with voting procedures, as does the bulletin boards placed around the Airfield.

    Soldiers, Airmen, Marines, Sailors and the like aren't being denied the opportunity to vote, they simply just aren't choosing to vote at all. It speaks both to the special nature of the 2008 election, and how poor the race is in 2012. If you want to vote, then you're going to find a way to vote. If you don't, well, you're just going to drive on and worry about something else.

    September 5, 2012 at 10:35 pm | Reply
    • celietz

      Absolutely correct and no one could have said it better.

      September 11, 2012 at 9:08 am | Reply
    • Gayle

      I am pleased that you have honestly posted the reality of a deployed soldier's ability to vote. I am sad for our country when uninformed or politically biased people post on social media sites, for so many people to see, that Obama is keeping deployed military from voting. Thank you for your service and thank you for posting the truth.

      November 6, 2012 at 1:27 pm | Reply

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