Politics & Policy


Get Out the military vote--now.

By John Edwards’s definition, a lot of Americans are nuts. And–to his undying frustration–we’re quite happy about it. The question the Dems have to face is just how many members of the military and their families share our particular brand of insanity.

About two weeks ago Edwards declared, “I’d say if you live in the United States of America and you vote for George Bush, you’ve lost your mind.” We will never know just how many soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines, and Coast Guardsmen are just as crazy as we are, but we can predict that about three-quarters of the military voters will cast ballots, if they can. (A much greater percentage of soldiers and their families vote than do civilians.) This is Absentee Voting Week around the world, and all members of the military family are being urged to get their absentee ballots filled out and sent in. And they’re doing it in what may be record numbers.

A lot of thought and hard work have been aimed at preventing a repeat of 2000, when a substantial number of military voters were disenfranchised. In states such as Florida, hundreds if not thousands of military absentee ballots were tossed aside. This time, voting-assistance officers have been assigned to every small unit, charged with ensuring that every soldier who wants to vote gets that chance. A special arrangement has been made with the U.S. Postal Service to handle ballot requests and ballots. And there’s more: As I wrote back in August, there are pre-positioned federal ballots (which enable a registered voter to vote in at least the presidential and other federal elections this year) in dozens of locations overseas. There is a new system that enables ballot requests and the ballots themselves (at least in some states) to flow by fax and e-mail. And, most important, there’s a determination among the military that their voices will be heard, which is very bad news for the Kerry-Edwards camp.

In a survey by the Military Times family of newspapers, taken from Sept. 21 to Sept. 28, 2,754 active-duty troops and 1,411 reservists and National Guard members responded to a web-based poll. The results? Bush/Cheney over Kerry/Edwards by 73 percent to 18 percent. If you think about the 1.4 million men and women on active duty–most of whom vote by absentee ballot–you can understand why the Dems are worried.

The reaction to the Military Times survey is, so far, a fascinating case of denial; typical is the column in Tuesday’s Washington Post by Peter Feaver. Feaver says, accurately, that the military is tough to poll, and that our men and women in uniform–remembering everything the Dems have stood for from Vietnam to Clinton to Kerry–still don’t trust Democrats. Feaver doesn’t recount the real reasons for the military’s distrust of the 2004 Dems: John Kerry’s refusal to apologize for his accusations of war crimes in his 1971 Senate testimony, and his consistent opposition to American action abroad, including his vote against the 1991 military action that threw Saddam out of Kuwait. Soldiers know about Kerry’s 20 years of opposition to military pay increases and to purchasing the tools of war our soldiers now rely on. But Feaver dismisses the Military Times survey because, he says, the Times’s readership is mostly career military and the poll was biased in President Bush’s favor. The subscribers to those newspapers tend to be career soldiers, but members of every rank, and every short- and long-timer, either reads or hears about what those papers say. They’re a key part of the scuttlebutt chain.

Feaver dismisses the whole issue by saying that the military vote isn’t enough to change the result of the election. That’s wishful thinking. Remember W.’s Florida victory in 2000? By a margin of about 537 votes? There are probably more than 10 or 20 times that number of Florida voters on active duty now, many overseas. The same holds true in other states in which military voters were substantially disenfranchised in 2000.

During this course of this week–October 11-15–the big push is on to get military (and civilian overseas) ballots filled out and sent back to the local officials. Scott Weidman, the deputy director of the federal voting-assistance program, told me that the past months’ effort is starting to pay off in terms of ballots flowing from the troops overseas to the local election boards that will count them. Some of the more innovative methods of voting–by fax and e-mail–also appear to be working well. Weidman said there’s been “heavy traffic” over the DoD fax system, with ballot requests to the tune of “hundreds a day” flowing from Americans overseas (both military and civilian) to the states. Because the traffic was so heavy, more phone lines were added recently.

Twenty-four states allow the voted ballots to be sent back by fax. California–where Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger recently signed legislation permitting it–has just joined the fax club. Unfortunately, some states and territories–Alabama, New York, Guam, New Hampshire, South Dakota, and Wyoming–still won’t allow faxed ballots.

Weidman told me that the new e-mail system is the result of a Mississippi concern in 2003 about soldiers in a National Guard unit in Iraq. Working with Mississippi, the Defense Department found a way to enable the state’s ballots to be turned into a “pdf” file for e-mailing to soldiers and–either directly or through DoD contractors–back to the ballot counters. This year, Missouri, Utah, and North Dakota have joined in. (Missouri–using the e-mail system only for military members in designated hazardous duty areas–has been catching flak from the civil libertarians. So far the Missourians, thanks to Secretary of State Matt Blunt, are hanging tough. Good for them.) Military members from some parts of Washington State can e-mail ballot requests to their counties and e-mail the voted ballots back directly.

Although the time to request ballots from half a world away has run out, there’s still a way or two for the soldiers–even the trigger-pullers on the front lines–to vote. For soldiers in the field who haven’t been able to request or haven’t yet received their states’ absentee ballots, there are about two million of the pre-positioned federal write-in absentee ballots in place at all U.S. embassies and consulates, as well as military installations worldwide. The voting-assistance officers in each military unit either have them or can get them easily. Any VAOs who have any difficulty obtaining these ballots should be taking the problem to their commanders before the sun sets today.

In Afghanistan and Iraq, the federal write-in ballots are available in places such as Bagram, Kabul, Kandahar, Mosul, Taji, and Kirkuk, and in Camps Victory, Anaconda, and Adder. These forms don’t enable voting in state races, but every ballot is–by law–valid for the national election. The Navy, according to one report, has pre-positioned ballots on about 96 percent of the ships at sea. A recently reported ballot shortage in Iraq was solved by an air shipment of a new supply.

The issue for all of you soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines, and Coasties out there is to get your ballots filled in and sent out. If you have any questions about how to do it, find your voting-assistance officer today and get those questions answered. Many of the states are hyper-fussy about how the ballots are filled out. Even here in Virginia–a military-friendly state–I have heard that ballots are being rejected because home addresses are filled in incorrectly. Put your Virginia home address on it, just the way it appeared on your voter registration. Get it done, people. And don’t do it twice: If you’ve sent in your state ballot, don’t send a federal absentee ballot, or both may be discounted.

For the rest of us, especially those military members and their families who are stateside and stationed away from home, the duty is the same. Get those ballots filled out and in the mail this week. Ask questions, get answers. Do it. Do it now, and don’t mess up. The Dems have a horde of lawyers being trained to sit with the ballot counters and find fault with your ballots.

That’s not the only bad news. There are remaining problems with the military postal service (mainly complaints about its speed), and many worry that there will be lots of meddling. The trial lawyers–with one of their own on the Dem ticket–have volunteered in great numbers to track and challenge not only the votes but the voting practices. The lawyers want to win this election, and will do whatever they have to in order to do it. They can be defeated by the sheer number of military members and their families who take the trouble to get it right. Those who risk their lives to defend this nation have the right to vote. You and your families are shouldering the burden of this war in a way civilians never can. You need to stand up to be counted in this election, just as you have chosen to stand up by putting on that uniform.

NRO contributor Jed Babbin is the author of Inside the Asylum: Why the UN and Old Europe are Worse than You Think.


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