Military Absentee Voting Updates

January 22nd, 2009

This has been another banner month for military voting rights. Two studies were released in the last month which shows the incredible need for immediate and robust reform of States’ military voting laws.

First, the Pew Center on the States released a report entitled, “No Time to Vote,” which conducted a detailed process analysis of each State’s military voting requirements, timelines, and process. That analysis proved what the National Defense Committee has long argued: that archaic State election laws systematically prevent military voters from exercising their right to vote. Specifically, Pew’s analysis showed that Alabama, Arkansas, Connecticut, District of Columbia, Georgia, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Hampshire, New York, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah and Wyoming are states identified as not providing enough “time to vote” for overseas military voters. Three other states, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, and Vermont were deemed “at risk” with less than 5 days extra time to complete the voting process.

This has been another banner month for military voting rights. Two studies were released in the last month which shows the incredible need for immediate and robust reform of States’ military voting laws.

First, the Pew Center on the States released a report entitled, “No Time to Vote,” which conducted a detailed process analysis of each State’s military voting requirements, timelines, and process. That analysis proved what the National Defense Committee has long argued: that archaic State election laws systematically prevent military voters from exercising their right to vote. Specifically, Pew’s analysis showed that Alabama, Arkansas, Connecticut, District of Columbia, Georgia, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Hampshire, New York, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah and Wyoming are states identified as not providing enough “time to vote” for overseas military voters. Three other states, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, and Vermont were deemed “at risk” with less than 5 days extra time to complete the voting process.

In essence, military personnel from those 19 States were only able to vote if they went around their State systems and took actions far more aggressive than any average absentee voter would be required to take. For example, the only way military voters in Rhode Island have enough time to vote, according to this analysis, is if they returned their FILLED-IN ballot by fax. That supposes that the military voter is even able to find a fax, which most of us realize is a very unlikely proposition, especially overseas in a war zone. But even if the military voter is able to find a fax machine, Rhode Island’s system forces her to give up her right to a secret ballot, one of the bedrocks of our democratic process. In fact, five additional States join Rhode Island with the dubious distinction of only providing overseas military voters with enough time to vote if those military voters relinquish their right to a secret ballot and send it back by fax or e-mail.

And Pew’s analysis assumes everything works perfectly: mail is delivered on time, the local election official sends out the absentee ballot the very first day it is available, and gives the military voter only one day to fill out the absentee ballot and send it back in. Considering the numerous problems with the military mail system that the National Defense Committee has already brought to the public’s attention, such “perfect performance” assumptions indicate that far more States join these 25 in the notorious distinction of systematically denying their military voters adequate time to cast a secret ballot. We understand why Pew made such assumptions because it is a performance study, and such studies need to set some benchmark for analysis. But we must also remain vigilant to not allow any State the ability to claim the Pew study exonerates its military voting system, or that simply allowing military voters to fax or e-mail in their voted ballot is somehow sufficient reform. It is not, and we cannot accept such onerous impositions on military voters.

What is even more amazing is that the Pew report pins the blame for this disenfranchisement clearly on the very causes National Defense Committee has repeatedly blamed: : reliance on erratic delivery by the US Postal System and the military mail systems and sending out absentee ballots too close to election day. In addition, the report emphasizes that, “In states where laws and practices have been cobbled together over decades, the problem is a failure to take into account how the system works as a whole….” and that, “Even one weak link could break the chain.”

National Defense Committee has long argued for greater electronic support for military voting. While NDC believes full internet voting for military personnel is the only way ultimately to defend completely the Constitutional right to vote of our Defenders of the Constitution, in the interim, we believe that every State should, at the very least, e-mail blank ballots out to military personnel so that they do not have to rely on the vicissitudes of the postal mail system to receive their absentee ballot in time. And that leads us to our second study.

Just before Christmas, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) released another report, “A Threat Analysis on UOCAVA Voting Systems.” This report analyzed the safety, security, and integrity of greater electronic support of voting for military and overseas voters, specifically the e-mailing and faxing of absentee ballot applications from military voters to election officials, e-mailing or faxing blank ballots back to military voters, and finally, e-mailing or faxing voted ballots from military voters to election officials. The report was remarkable in finding that for the first two steps of this process, namely the e-mailing of absentee ballot applications from military voter to election official, and then e-mailing the blank, un-voted ballot from the election official to the military voter, “can be reliably facilitated and expedited by the use of fax, e-mail, or web transmission. The threats associated with using fax, e-mail, and web transmission can be mitigated through the use of procedural and technical security controls and therefore do not pose significant risks to the integrity of elections.”

This report with the Pew report lays clear the path forward: Every state should immediately allow for the e-mailing of blank ballots to military voters. The NIST report proves that blank ballot transmission to voters does not pose significant security risks, while the Pew report details how not providing that electronic alternative systematically disenfranchises the military voter from states that refuse to do so.

To that end, National Defense Committee has also been supporting the efforts of the Uniform Law Commission to draft a model law that all States could adopt to standardize and expand the processes for military ballots to be delivered and voted. National Defense Committee is an observer on the Uniform Law Commission’s Drafting Committee, and will attend those drafting meetings February 6-7 in Portland, Oregon, and March 6-7 in Chicago. We will keep you advised of those efforts.

However, readers of the National Defense Committee newsletter can help out now. First, the National Defense Committee recently organized the new Alliance for Military and Overseas Voting Rights, a group of 30+ military and veterans service organizations, overseas citizen organizations, and election agencies, with the goal of fundamentally transforming the voting systems for military and overseas voters. If you belong to any organization that you believe should help in this effort, no matter how small, you should encourage that organization to join the Alliance. You can get further information on Alliance membership and goals from NDC Executive Director, Bob Carey, at Bob.Carey@NationalDefenseCommittee.org. Further, as the Uniform Law Commission moves forward in their efforts, you can encourage your State legislatures to adopt these reforms, most importantly allowing for blank ballots to be e-mailed to military personnel. Again, contact Bob Carey if you have information on how to start that effort.

Finally, these efforts don’t come cheap. Although all of the staff of National Defense Committee execute their duties for no cost, the expense of traveling to Uniform Law Commission and Alliance meetings and events is expensive. Your donation, no matter how small, is important to our being able to continue this work to defend the Constitutional rights of those that defend our Constitution. Please help however you can.