A new report finds many military members and their spouses aren't exercising their right to vote this election, with the low number of absentee ballot requests on track to make 2012 a record low for the military vote.
The Military Voter Protection Project found that absentee ballot requests by the military dropped significantly since 2008, including in big swing states. As of Sept. 22, requests were down 46 percent in Florida, 70 percent in Virginia, and 70 percent in Ohio. A similar drop occurred in non-battleground states like Alaska and North Carolina.
"These are lowest numbers we've seen in the last decade," Eric Eversole, founder and executive director of the project, tells Whispers. "There are a number of factors that go into this, but if the Pentagon was doing what it was supposed to be, this would be a non-issue."
Eversole is talking about the Pentagon's Federal Voting Assistance Program, which is tasked with helping military members vote.
Under the Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment Act (or MOVE Act), which was signed into law in 2009, the FVAP is supposed to assist service members with voting on military installations. This includes providing military members with voter information forms when they check in to a duty station, similar to the "motor voter" programs civilians see at DMV offices.
But a U.S. Department of Defense Inspector General report released in August found that FVAP hadn't set up those voter assistance offices—in part because of funding problems, but also because of resistance from the Department of Defense. After the report came out, Republican Texas Sen. John Cornyn wrote a letter to Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta demanding better voter assistance for the troops.
FVAP did not immediately respond to request for comment from Whispers.
But Eversole says "cultural hurdles" are also a factor in the missing military vote.
"There is this idea that service members should stay out of the political process or America will not trust you," he says.
In June, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey wrote on his blog that he believed it was important to have an apolitical military. "We must understand why our military as a profession embraces political neutrality as a core value," he wrote, saying neutrality was essential to keeping the trust of the American people.
Cornyn had something to say about this, too, writing a letter to Dempsey that questioned his comments and urged him to issue a public statement encouraging the military to vote.
"I shook my head at this," says Eversole of Dempsey's comments. "Service members must participate in the democratic process they work to defend."
Update, 5:08 p.m.:
North Carolina Republican Senator Richard Burr, who signed Cornyn’s letter to Panetta demanding better voter assistance for the troops, told Whispers in an E-mailed statement:
"It is clear that the Department of Defense has failed to establish on-base voter assistance programs, as Congress required. I am hopeful they will reassess their efforts and make voting among our service members a priority in an election year."
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