Eric Eversole Respond to Bob Carey on Military Voting Issues

Following up on this post, Eric Eversole sends along these thoughts:

The point that must not be forgotten is that the Federal Voting Assistance Program (FVAP) failed to provide military voters the assistance required under federal law.  The most recent allegations are an attempt to deflect criticism from FVAP’s failures and cloud the real problem of low military voter participation rates.

Contrary to Mr. Carey’s claims, the Military Voter Protection Project (MVP Project) considered whether to include “automatically” generated absentee ballot requests in our analysis of the 2008 election data.  Under federal law, as it stood in 2008, states were required to send out absentee ballots to military and overseas voters for two federal election cycles.  In other words, if a military voter requested an absentee ballot for the 2006 federal election, the state not only had to send absentee ballots for the 2006 election cycle, it also automatically send absentee ballots for the 2008 federal elections as well.

Federal law subsequently changed in 2009, but we decided to include automatic absentee ballots in our analysis for two reasons.  First, they were still valid absentee ballot requests for the 2008 election.  Second, a vast majority of these ballots were cast and counted.  This latter fact is evidenced by the 2008 post-election report by the Election Assistance Commission (EAC), where nearly two-thirds of these ballots were received by the voter and were returned to the local election official to be counted.

For us, it came down to this:  if you are trying to gauge the number of potential participants in an election, why would you exclude valid absentee ballot requests, especially when a vast majority of those ballots were returned and counted?  Regardless of the source, they represent thousands of real military and overseas voters that participated in the 2008 election.  Now, they represent thousands of military and overseas voters that may not be able to participate in the upcoming election.

Nor should anyone buy the false claim that military and overseas voting is actually up in 2012.  That claim can only be made by ignoring the 231,000 automatic absentee ballots that were sent out and the 150,000 that were returned to local election officials to be counted.  It makes no sense to exclude these ballots unless you were trying to understate actual participation rates in 2008.

If you look at the number of military and overseas ballots that were counted in 2008, it shows you how far we must go in the coming weeks to meet 2008 totals.  Take Florida, for example:  in 2008, the state counted 95,014 absentee ballots from military and overseas voters.  Yet, as of September 22nd, the state had sent only 65,173 absentee ballots to these voters.

The same holds true for Virginia.  In 2008, Virginia counted 28,816 military and overseas ballots in the presidential election, but has sent out only 12,292 for this year’s election as of September 22, 2012.  It doesn’t take much to figure out that it will be difficult to meet the 2008 participation levels, even if every single ballot is returned and counted.

The more interesting discussion is not whether the number of absentee ballots will be down this year, but how much of the decrease can be blamed on FVAP, and most importantly, how we ensure that our military voters are not disenfranchised in this election.  Some commentators have pointed to the reduction in overseas deployments and a reduction in activated National Guard members, as an excuse for reduced absentee ballot requests.  Others have pointed to the removal of the automatic absentee ballot requests from federal law and how that may have impacted participation.

These factors, however, do not overcome FVAP’s failure to implement a key provision of the MOVE Act—one that would have created a more systematic basis for allowing military voters to register and request an absentee ballot.  That process was supposed to be governed by the National Voter Registration Act or “Motor Voter.”

As many in the election community have long known, Motor Voter has played a critical role in helping all Americans, especially those in underrepresented communities, to participate in our elections.  When Congress passed the MOVE Act in 2009, it determined that military members should be entitled to the same benefits when the check into a new duty station.  Yet, that didn’t happen.

FVAP and the Pentagon’s failure to implement this requirement must be the central point in this discussion.  If we are going to improve the participation rates by military voters, they need a more systematic process to register and request an absentee ballot.  Until that occurs, our military members will continue to be one of the most disenfranchised groups in the United States.

 

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