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August 06, 2012

On "Disenfranchising" Military Voters

Last week, I posted a quick response to a story about the DNC/Obama campaign's lawsuit challenging a 3 day extension of early voting privileges for Ohio military voters on the grounds that any privilege extended to military (but not civilian) voters violates the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment:

On July 17th, the Obama for America Campaign, the Democratic National Committee and the Ohio Democratic Party filed suit in OH to strike down part of that state's law governing voting by members of the military. Their suit said that part of the law is "arbitrary" with "no discernible rational basis."

Currently, Ohio allows the public to vote early in-person up until the Friday before the election. Members of the military are given three extra days to do so. While the Democrats may see this as "arbitrary" and having "no discernible rational basis," I think it is entirely reasonable given the demands on servicemen and women's time and their obligations to their sworn duty.

A few commenters noted that the suit did not ask for the extra three days to be denied military voters. Rather, it argued that if military voters are given an extra three days to vote early, that privilege must also be extended to civilian voters. I agree that extending extra time to civilians does not actually "disenfranchise" military voters, at least in the ordinary sense of that word. My use of that term was not meant to be taken literally. I thought my meaning was clear from the 2004 post I excerpted, which contrasted faux disenfranchisement of convicted felons and people who can't manage to fill out a ballot correctly with actual disenfranchisement (throwing out legitimate military absentee ballots).

I would like to suggest, with respect, that those of you who are focusing on the 3 day disparity in early voting are missing the forest for the trees. My objection to the Obama campaign's lawsuit is not so much that it seeks to grant an extra 3 days of early voting access to civilians. As I have previously acknowledged, doing so takes nothing from military voters and their families. What the Obama campaign is suing over - a mere 3 days additional early voting - will have little impact on military voters. It is likely have a great impact on the number of civilian votes cast, however:

The Ohio Democratic Party contends that 30 percent of all votes cast in the last presidential election were cast before Election Day, with 93,000 votes cast on the Saturday, Sunday and Monday before the election. It’s hard to verify, but pundits believe that extended early-voting periods would benefit Obama.

Extending early voting for 3 more days may well hand Barack Obama the election, but that's really beside the point as far as I'm concerned. There's another thing it would do, and this is what matters: it would strike down as an unconstitutional violation of the 14th Amendment any law that extends additional time to military voters in recognition of the special difficulties faced by service members and their families - difficulties the Obama campaign deems it "arbitrary" and "irrational" to recognize.

If anything is arbitrary or irrational here, it's the notion that civilian voters face the same obstacles military personnel and their families routinely encounter. Here's just one example of those obstacles - an example of what our Commander in Chief doesn't think the states should be allowed to address:

My husband graduated from high school in a small town in Florida in 1976 and then reported to the United States Naval Academy for “plebe summer.” In 1980, he graduated and was commissioned a second lieutenant of Marines. We met in 1981, in California, where he was stationed at the time, and we married in 1983. In the last 23 years, I have accompanied him all over the United States, as he has moved up the ranks to Colonel. When he deployed overseas, I stayed in the United States with the kids.

My husband has maintained his legal residence or domicile in Florida-he still votes by absentee ballot in that small Florida town. On his Federal Post Card Application (FPCA), he uses the address where he lived with his parents when he graduated from high school and then traveled to Annapolis almost 30 years ago. His father died in 1985, and his mother then moved to retirement community in another state, where she died in 1995. His family no longer owns the house where he grew up and graduated from high school, and the house itself has been torn down to make room for a commercial development. But the local election official has never given him any hassle about using that address as his permanent residence address.

My husband has maintained his Florida domicile for tax and other reasons, but I have never lived in Florida, either before or after the marriage. I was a legal resident of California at the time of the marriage. As I have moved to each new home, as my husband has been transferred from duty station to duty station, I have registered and voted in each new community, and my right to do that was never questioned until recently, when my husband and I moved to Stafford County, Va., to be near his Pentagon duty station.

The Registrar of Voters of Stafford County rejected my voter registration application. He said that I am not a resident of the county because I cannot swear that I will still live in the county after my husband retires or transfers to a new duty station. I have no way to predict where I will be five years from now, or even next year. My husband can retire at any time, since he completed his 20 years of active duty in 2000, but he is not required to retire until May 2010. If he is selected for brigadier general, he could well remain on active duty past May 2010. When he does retire, he will look for a civilian job and move to the location of that job, if he cannot find a suitable job in the Washington area. Of course, I plan to move with him, wherever he goes. I don't think that it is fair that my right to vote is under attack because of the circumstances of my husband's service to America. (My husband and I have two sons on active duty, one in Iraq and the other in Afghanistan.) If I cannot vote in Stafford County, where am I supposed to vote?

I am very angry about the way that the registrar has treated me. I am not alone-there are hundreds of other military spouses who have sought to register in the county and who have been hassled by this man. I have a good job in Washington, and I pay Virginia state income tax. I think that I should have a say in the election of the governor and other state officials who spend my tax money, but my greatest concern relates to the local school board. Military children (including our two younger children) are not getting a fair break in the local school system, and the school board thinks that it need not give any respect to military families, because they don't vote here or are not permitted to vote here.

It is well known (and has been for well over half a century) that the ballots of active duty service members are routinely discarded for various reasons. It was in recognition of widespread and persistent disenfranchisement of military voters that Congress passed the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act, which directs the states to do precisely what the Obama campaign is suing to force an end to - take affirmative action to correct a system under which military voters are TWICE as likely to be disenfranchised as members of the general public.

THIS is why a group of 15 military organizations are objecting to the Democratic National Committee and the Obama campaign's shameless attempt to use the very Constitution the armed forces swear to defend to strike down any attempt to deal with serious and persistent problems that prevent America's defenders and their families from voting:

.... Among voters voting in person on Election Day, a disenfranchisement rate of 1/10 of 1% (voters disenfranchised by systemic problems or election official error) would be considered absolutely unacceptable, but among military absentee voters disenfranchisement rates in excess of 50% have been ROUTINE in recent decades.

In a 1952 letter to Congress, President Harry S. Truman wrote:

"About 2,500,000 men and women in the Armed Forces are of voting age at the present time. Many of those in uniform are serving overseas, or in parts of the country distant from their homes. They are unable to return to their States either to register or to vote. Yet these men and women, who are serving their country and in many cases risking their lives, deserve above all others to exercise the right to vote in this election year. At a time when these young people are defending our country and its free institutions, the least we at home can do is to make sure that they are able to enjoy the rights they are being asked to fight to preserve."

That military members and their families face special challenges at the ballot box is not in dispute (the Obama campaign's ludicrous arguments to the contrary). Nor is it even the case that all Ohioans had an equal number of early voting days before the new law mandated that the polls close by 6 pm on Friday. As Paul Mirengoff points out, the law being challenged by the Obama campaign made access to the polls MORE (not less) consistent:

... there was a valid reason for the Ohio legislature to amend the old law that gave everyone the extra days. According to Ohio’s Secretary of State Jon Husted, the old law did not create consistent early voting rights across the state because most local jurisdictions decided to close for the weekend. Husted notes that the Dems did not sue when 6 counties had weekend voting and extended hours while 82 counties did not.

Clearly, then, the Democrats’ concern is not equal access to voting for all Ohio voters. It was only when military members became the beneficiary of extra access that the Democrats found the system arbitrary.

This is the problem with progressive policies: they continually agitate for special treatment for what they deem disadvantaged minorities... until they encounter a genuinely disadvantaged minority - military voters - whose votes cannot be purchased. Suddenly, their moral outrage over the supposedly sacrosanct right to vote disappears faster than a Justice Department investigation into voter intimidation committed by one of those "disadvantaged minorities".

Quite frankly, I don't give a rat's ass whether civilians are given an extra 3 days of early voting in Ohio. I care very much, however, about setting a precedent that prevents states from doing everything in their power to count the votes of soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines and their families.

Your mileage may vary, of course.

Posted by Cassandra at August 6, 2012 07:40 AM

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I am busy working with True The Vote in Houston, trying to ensure that the dead remain in their graves this election. (You can, too! We're working nationwide now. www.TrueTheVote.org) I wonder if we have any projects relating to military disenfranchisement. I'm going to check.

The best thing we can do for the military, and for that matter, for the country, is to join Michelle Obama's "Let's Move" program. "Let's Move" the Obamas back to Chicago!!! Go Mitt, you imperfect white Mormon. RINO, maybe. Commie? No.

Posted by: MathMom at August 6, 2012 09:47 AM

Thanks, MathMom - I will check that out!

Posted by: Cassandra at August 6, 2012 10:05 AM

"Quite frankly, I don't give a rat's ass whether civilians are given an extra 3 days of early voting in Ohio. I care very much, however, about setting a precedent that prevents states from doing everything in their power to count the votes of soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines and their families."


Similarly situated voters... *spit*

The unadulterated Bovine Scat in that similarly situated claim has to be a top contender for the Best Raise Your Arm To Save Your Watch Line in a Comedy/Drama -- aka Obamaism From The Twilight Zone-- Award.

Talk about strategery, this will endear Dear Leader with the Mil-Vet community even more than before.

Posted by: bthun at August 6, 2012 01:50 PM

Cass, I have to say, I can't find a single reason to disagree with anything in this post.

I tried, really I did.


Posted by: Tom at August 7, 2012 11:50 PM

Tom, that may be one of the nicest things anyone's said to me in a long while :)

I will admit that my Hanes Ultrasheers are in a bit of a twist over this one. I've seen so many sloppy (at best) and flat out dishonest (at worst) characterizations of why these military groups oppose the Obama campaign's lawsuit that frankly I'm feeling a bit stunned. And I was under the impression that I wasn't getting my point across, so your comments mean a lot to me.

It really does come down to that phrase bthun cited: "similarly situated". Neither active duty military nor their families are "similarly situated" to civilian voters. Military dependents who choose (the cheeky things!) to move from state to state so they can live in the same house with their military sponsor often don't qualify to be domiciled in the same state (I didn't) and - due to the fact that they can't honestly swear that they intend to make ANY place their permanent home - don't qualify for domicile in the state where they live, work, and PAY TAXES.

I know this firsthand because it applied to me. My husband was domiciled (legally) in Florida, but I did not qualify.

The more I read about this election, the more convinced I am that most people have no desire to try and understand any issue that is more complex than licking an ice cream cone. Since most issues fall into this category, that doesn't bode well for our ability to make informed decisions.

Posted by: Cassandra at August 8, 2012 06:43 AM