Reports indicate that certain states, including Illinois and New York, failed to send absentee ballots to overseas military personnel in a timely manner, thus possibly preventing these troops from having their votes counted in the November 2010 general election. The 2009 MOVE Act included provisions to improve absentee registration for service members in foreign countries. The law requires each county in a state to mail its absentee ballots 45 days prior to Election Day to troops, government employees and other Americans who wish to vote from abroad.
The MOVE Act: A number of federal laws have been enacted since 1942 to enable the military and U.S. citizens abroad to vote in federal elections. Most recently, in October 2009, President Obama signed into law the Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment (MOVE) Act as part of the National Defense Authorization Act for FY2010 (P.L. 111-84). Among other things, this law requires states to transmit a requested absentee ballot to an absent uniformed services voter or overseas voter no later than 45 days before an election, if the request is received at least 45 days before the election. This requirement of the law applies to the general election to be held on November 2, 2010. The last day for states to comply was on September 18, 2010.
The law does permit states to apply for a waiver from the Department of Defense if (1) the primary date prevents the state from complying, (2) a legal contest results in a delay in generating the absentee ballots or, (3) the state constitution prevents compliance. According to the Congressional Research Service, 12 jurisdictions filed for a waiver for this election cycle, including Alaska, Colorado, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, Rhode Island, the Virgin Islands, Wisconsin, and Washington. The Department of Defense announced that waiver requests had been approved for five states (Delaware, Massachusetts, New York, Rhode Island, and Washington), and not approved for six jurisdictions (Alaska, Colorado, Hawaii, the Virgin Islands, Wisconsin, and the District of Columbia).
Recent Reports: Media reports and public records of the Department of Justice and the Federal Voting Assistance Program have since revealed widespread noncompliance with this federal law. Several states have not complied with transmitting ballots by the September 18, 2010, deadline, and one state, New York, failed to meet a later deadline after being granted a waiver. The DOJ failed to ensure compliance. Furthermore, DOJ appears to have accepted vague and misleading assertions of compliance from states including New York and Illinois.
In an October 15, 2010 letter to the DOJ’s Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights, Armed Services Ranking Member Buck McKeon, Judiciary Ranking Member Lamar Smith, and Subcommittee on Elections Ranking Member Kevin McCarthy, wrote: “Congress has worked hard over the last several years to ensure that the men and women overseas on behalf of our country do not lose their ability to vote as a result of their service. Congress relies on the Department of Justice to ensure the laws are followed. The Department’s failure to give meaning to our efforts on behalf of overseas voters is deeply disappointing.”
The failure of states to mail ballots to U.S. troops overseas, including in Iraq and Afghanistan, in a timely manner as prescribed by law is unconscionable. Every day, these troops lay their lives on the line to defend freedom and should not be denied the right to vote. Any state that was delinquent in mailing ballots to military personnel has a responsibility to ensure their ballots are collected and counted. Republicans believe our troops have earned the right to vote and will fight to ensure that they are not disenfranchised.