Congress passed the Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment, or MOVE, Act in 2009, to make it easier for military personnel and their families to exercise the franchise they risk their lives to defend. Unfortunately, an Aug. 31 Department of Defense inspector general's report shows that the Pentagon has failed to implement this law. The IG found that fewer than half of U.S. military bases set up MOVE-mandated voting assistance offices where military personnel could get the same assistance registering to vote and requesting absentee ballots as their civilian counterparts at "motor voter" locations stateside.
Pam Mitchell, interim director of the Pentagon's Federal Voting Assistance Program, claimed the IG inspectors had been using "outdated" contact information and that DOD's voter assistance is "the best that it's ever been." But in its survey of states with large military populations, the Military Voter Protection Project sided with the IG. The no-profit reported a 92 percent drop in absentee ballot requests by service members in Virginia so far this year, with the same pattern repeated in other states. If the Pentagon was really implementing MOVE, those numbers would be going up, not plunging.
In a stern Sept. 7th letter to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, MOVE author Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, chastised the Pentagon for its "clear violation of a central provision of this federal law. ... The MOVE Act was not optional, and neither is our moral duty to protect the civil rights of our men and women in uniform and their families," Cornyn wrote.
States are required to accept a downloadable federal postcard that both registers service members to vote and requests an absentee ballot. This postcard is also supposed to be readily available at all military installations. But the extremely low number of absentee ballot requests so far indicates that highly mobile service members are not aware of this option, because a resistant Pentagon has not made voter registration part of the regular check-in process at each new duty station.
To their credit, both D.C. and Virginia passed legislation applying MOVE to state and local elections, but military members stationed overseas can't vote if they don't request an absentee ballot 45 days before an election. That deadline falls on Sept. 22 this year. Friends and family members will have to make up for the Pentagon's inexcusable inaction by reminding service members to request absentee ballots if they have not already done so.