Wicker Calls for Pentagon to Safeguard Voting Rights of Service Members

September 14, 2012

WASHINGTON, DC – U.S. Senator Roger Wicker (R-MS), on Thursday, urged the Defense Secretary Leon Panetta to improve efforts to ensure service members stationed overseas received ballots and were able to vote.  Wicker, who is a senior member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, requested a report from the Department of Defense outlining the steps being taken to protect voting rights for military personnel.

“Recent studies have highlighted that too many of our service members have not received absentee ballots when they were requested,” said Wicker.  “Voting is a cornerstone of our democracy, and failure to allow our military personnel to vote while they serve around the world must be solved.  Every effort should be made to ensure our service members can exercise their right to vote.”

Congress passed the Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment Act of 2009 to improve access to absentee ballots for military personnel serving abroad.  However, a study by the Federal Voter Assistance Program found that more than 120,000 active duty service members did not receive the absentee ballot they requested in 2010, and a recent Department of Defense Inspector General report raised questions about the effectiveness of the Pentagon’s efforts ahead of the 2012 elections have worked.

A signed copy of the letter can be downloaded here, and the full text of the letter follows:

September 13, 2012

The Honorable Leon Panetta
Secretary of Defense
1000 Defense Pentagon
Washington, D.C. 20301-3010

Dear Secretary Panetta,

I write to express my concerns regarding low absentee voter participation rates by U.S. military service members.  

As you know, Congress passed the Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment Act of 2009 [P.L. 111-84] to help alleviate the confusing array of barriers to absentee voter participation by active duty military personnel. However, trends indicate that military voter participation has decreased since passage of the statue.  In September 2011, an internal review by the Federal Voter Assistance Program found that 29 percent of registered military voters never received an absentee ballot for the 2010 elections.  Furthermore, an August 2012 report by the Military Voter Protection Project found that military absentee voter registration rates are running below 2008 levels.

In light of these facts, I am deeply troubled by the Department of Defense (DOD) Inspector General’s finding last week that approximately half of U.S. military bases lack congressionally mandated installation voting assistance offices (IVAOs), designed to assist service members through the voting process.  To assess effectiveness of DOD efforts to establish IVAOs, the Inspector General attempted to contact the 229 IVAOs listed as operational by DOD.  According to the Inspector General, “The results were clear.  Our attempts to contact IVAOs failed about 50 percent of the time.”  After three years and over $92 million, these results are unacceptable.

With less than 60 days prior to the election it is imperative that the Department of Defense safeguard the voting rights of those who have chosen to serve our country.  It would be a harsh irony indeed if those who fight to defend democracy found themselves unable to participate in it.  As such, I request that DOD report to Congress as soon as possible on its efforts to provide military voters with the opportunity and resources required to register to vote and to request and receive an absentee ballot.  

Thank you for your consideration.

Sincerely yours,

Roger F. Wicker

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