Military Voting Rights Newsletter ~ Volume 1, July 2009
Dear Friend of the Military Voter:
In June 1952, during the Korean War, the Subcommittee on Elections, Committee on House Administration, United States House of Representatives conducted hearings on military voting for the 1952 Presidential election. The witnesses included the Honorable C.G. Hall, Secretary of State of Arkansas and President of the National Association of Secretaries of State. The hearings concluded that most of the brave young men and women fighting the Korean War were likely to be disenfranchised.
Mr. Hall and other witnesses testified that because of late primaries, ballot access lawsuits, and other problems absentee ballots for the November 1952 general election would not be available to be mailed until a few days before the election. Thus, there would not be time for an absentee ballot to travel from the local election official to the voter, and for the voter in Korea or elsewhere to mark and return the ballot by Election Day. Thus, the wholesale disenfranchisement of military voters was considered inevitable.
Today, as in 1952, there are three time-consuming steps in absentee voting. First, the voter’s request for an absentee ballot must travel from the voter to the election official. Second, the unmarked absentee ballot must travel from the election official to the voter. Finally, the voter’s marked ballot must travel from the voter back to the election official in the voter’s home town, perhaps thousands of miles away. Each of these steps can take weeks if snail mail must be utilized, but only seconds if secure electronic means were authorized.
Despite enormous strides in communications technology in the last 57 years, military absentee voting is still conducted much as it was in 1952, with each of the three steps required to be completed by snail mail. Each business day, billions of dollars are transmitted electronically, without loss. In the military, classified information is routinely transmitted by secure electronic means. If electronic means are secure enough for huge sums of money and for our nation’s most important secrets, why is it not possible for deployed military personnel to vote with reasonable assurance that their ballots will be counted?
The 1952 congressional hearings report includes a copy of a letter to Congress from President Harry S. Truman. In his letter, he called for the states to fix this problem, and he called upon Congress to enact temporary federal legislation for the 1952 Presidential election. He wrote, “Any such legislation by Congress should be temporary, since it should be possible to make all the necessary changes in State laws before the congressional elections of 1954.”
Well, it did not work out that way. The Korean War ended in 1953, and this issue dropped off our national radar screen until 2000, when the razor-thin margin in Florida again brought this issue to national attention. But despite all the attention to the disenfranchisement of military personnel in the immediate aftermath of the 2000 Presidential election, this problem has not yet been solved.
More military personnel are eligible to vote in Texas than in any other state—Texans make up about 15% of the active duty force. During its 2009 session, the Texas Legislature considered but failed to enact legislation to enfranchise the brave young men and women who are away from home and prepared to lay down their lives in defense of our country. The Texas Legislature will not meet again in regular session until after the 2010 general election.
I invite your attention to the most eloquent opening paragraph of President Truman’s 1952 letter to Congress:
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.
I am sure that you will agree that President Truman’s words are as true today as they were in 1952, and that the President’s words of admiration about the soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines, and Coast Guardsmen fighting the Korean War in 1952 apply equally to their grandsons and granddaughters fighting the Global War on Terrorism today.
I am sure that you will also agree that President Truman’s 1952 words need to be redirected to today’s Members of Congress and the state legislatures, as well as state and local election officials. America’s sons and daughters in our Armed Forces should not have to wait another 57 years to enjoy a basic civil right that the rest of us take for granted.
I became aware of this issue 33 years ago, in the immediate aftermath of the 1976 general election. In the course of research for an election contest, I became aware that the County Clerk of Harris County (Houston and vicinity) received 300 absentee ballots in the mail on the day after Election Day, and those ballots were not counted.
I have been working this issue in one capacity or another since 1976. Some of you have been on my military voting mailing list for more than 20 years. As of June 1, 2009, I am the first Director of the Reserve Officers Association (ROA) Law Center, and military voting is one of the principal interests of the Law Center. I have a mailing list of about 2,600 folks, and I have e-mail addresses for about 2,000 of them. Starting now, my communications about this subject will be primarily by e-mail—by a monthly e-mail newsletter. This is Issue No. 1, for July 2009.
For the past 33 years, my efforts have been primarily at the state level. We have had some successes, but the problem largely remains or is worse than ever. The states have had 57 years to solve this problem and have failed to do so. It is time for Congress to step up to the plate and solve the problem once and for all. Military personnel are deployed overseas in service to our country, not their individual states.
On May 12, 2009, Senator John Cornyn of Texas introduced S. 1026, the proposed Military Voting Protection Act. On May 13, Representative Kevin McCarthy of California introduced H.R. 2393, an identical bill in the House of Representatives. Please contact your United States Representative and your two Senators, in support of these bills.
The ROA Law Center also needs your financial support. Please mail us a check to ROA at 1 Constitution Ave. NE Washington, DC 20002. Please make the check payable to the Reserve Officers Association, and mark it “Law Center—Military Voting.” Or you can call me toll free at 800-809-9448, extension 730 and make a contribution by credit card.
Samuel F. Wright
Captain, JAGC, USN (Ret.)
Director, Servicemembers Law Center,
Military Voting Rights Project
1 Constitution Ave. NE
Washington, DC 20002
(800) 809-9448, ext. 730
(202) 646-7767 (fax)