Military Voting Rights

, Evan Sumortin, Leave a comment

The Voting Rights Act of 1965 was originally passed to fight against discriminatory voting practices that had been responsible for the widespread disenfranchisement of African-Americans. Nevertheless, there is still a significant group of disenfranchised Americans: the men and women of the armed forces serving to defend our country abroad.

At the weekly bloggers briefing held June 9 at the Heritage Foundation, Edward Fitzmaurice Jr. of Military Voting Rights USA presented his effort to pass a resolution calling for express mail to bring military ballots home from overseas.

A survey by the Election Assistance Commission shows that of approximately one million ballots requested by overseas and military voters in the 2006 election, only around one-third were successfully cast. Fitzmaurice attributes this problem to the fact that ballots delivered late from overseas are not counted. “There are many problems that prevent military votes from being counted, but the easiest one to solve is the lack of timely ballot delivery from overseas. According to the Office of Military Voting Assistance it takes 3 weeks for a ballot to be delivered from overseas. Many ballots are not counted for the simple reason that they are late,” states the website (
However, there are many other reasons why ballots are not counted. The PEW Center for States report “No time to Vote” found that “one-third of all U.S. states do not provide enough time to vote for military personnel stationed overseas and as many as half of all states need to improve their absentee-voting process to ensure that the votes of servicemen and women abroad will be counted.” But changing half of the states’ laws is difficult and some changes may involve forcing a state to change the date of its primary election.

The government has pursued different solutions, such as using Pentagon-created electronic transmission ballots, but this method proves to be susceptible to hacking from outside sources. Faxing ballots has also been considered but it violates the right to a private ballot. Some states even allow late ballots from overseas as long as they were post-marked before the election date. Unfortunately, this can be a corruptible system especially in the case of a close election.

An express mail delivery system could get a ballot delivered in four days. “Military voters could deposit their ballot by Friday before the general election and have the ballot delivered to their local election office by the close of polls on Election Day,” said Fitzmaurice.

In 2008, Republican Congressman Kevin McCarthy (Calif.) and Senator John Cornyn (Texas) introduced legislation to establish an express mail delivery system, but it was rejected by the House. Military Voting Rights USA is continuing to build support for the new legislation in the Congress and media.

Currently, there is an amendment to the Uniformed and Overseas Absentee Voting Act that would require “States to accept absentee ballots of overseas military and civilian voters which are submitted by the voter to a provider of express mail services not later than the day before the date of election involved for transmission to the appropriate State election official, to require the Secretary of Defense to reimburse overseas military voters for the costs of using a provider of express mail services to transmit the ballot to the official, and for other purposes.” This amendment was introduced in to the House Administration Committee on April 23 by Congressman Rush Holt (D-New Jersey) and was referred to committee. Unfortunately there have been no cosponsors for this bill.

Evan Sumortin is an intern at the American Journalism Center, a training program run by Accuracy in Media and Accuracy in Academia.