This diary started out as just a simple story. It had been my intention to explain how watching my leaders fall off their pedestals led to my disillusionment, political awakening, and disenfranchisement in 1988. It has instead turned into a mini-crusade to prevent my experience from happening to the fine men and women serving this country today.
In a 1952 letter to Congress President Harry Truman wrote:
"Almost 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 that they are being asked to fight to preserve."
Voting rights for Military Personnel that are far from home and other U.S. Citizens living abroad are protected by the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act (UOCAVA).
The process is supposed to be simple... The serviceman or woman fills out postcard Form (SF-76) and gives it to their "Voting Assistance Officer". This officer, who is supposed to be O-4 or above, then mails the form to the citizen's "Local Election Official". The "Local Election Official" then approves the Registration request or writes back asking for more information through the "Voting Assistance Officer". Once approved the "Local Election Official" mails the absentee ballot to the now Registered Voter through the "Voting Assistance Officer". The Registered Voter then votes by filling out the absentee ballot and returning it to the "Voting Assistance Officer" who mails the absentee ballot to the "Local Election Official" in time to meet the state deadline. Simple, right? What could possibly go wrong? The following is a true story and a cautionary tale...
In 1988 I was an idealistic Lance Corporal eager to cast my first vote ever for Michael Dukakis. The exploits of Oliver North and the Reagan Administration had left a bad taste in my mouth and I was hoping a Democratic Administration would rectify that. I was approached by our Battalion's "Voting Assistance Officer" and asked if I'd like to request a ballot. I quickly filled out the form he provided and proceeded to talk politics with the other Marines milling about. The "Voting Assistance Officer", let's call him Captain Rethug (0-3: they must have been out of Majors), asked me what state I was from. I told him and he proceeded to explain to me that I'd missed the deadline for my state. So... I called my state and found out that the Capt Rethug had somehow been mistaken. My "Local Election Official" somehow confirmed my identity with a few phone calls and assured me that my absentee ballot would be in the mail.
A few weeks later I was sitting at my desk (MOS 0151 - Clerk Typist) when Capt Rethug burst in waving my ballot wildly, screaming that he knew I hadn't filled out the proper forms, demanding to know how I had thwarted him, and threatening me with disciplinary action for not following the chain of command. Now Capt Rethug must not have been too bright... I've always wondered why he didn't just rip it up and throw it away before I saw it. Not only that, he'd actually thrown it at me during his tirade. I picked it up. He demanded it back. I refused...
I must admit that at this point I was
shitting bricks quite scared. Luckily my Lieutenant came to the rescue (one doesn't just start screaming at another Officer's men after all). Once he found out what was going on, he ordered me to give the ballot back to Capt Rethug which I promptly did. He also told Capt Rethug that he'd better not disenfranchise me. I asked the Lieutenant what that meant and they both just looked at me. My Lieutenant told me not to worry about it and that he'd take care of me and make sure I got to vote.
After the officers left I consulted the dictionary on my desk and learned what "disenfranchise" meant. When the day came for me to fill out my ballot Capt Rethug hovered over me to confirm to himself that I was voting the wrong way. When I was done I bolted out of the office and ran down the hall with Capt Rethug hot on my heels. I had prearranged with our Battalion Postal Clerk for the security of my ballot. Once it was in his hands it was a Federal Offense to hinder it's delivery... or so I thought.
A little while later, from my office window, I watched our Mail Clerk carry the bag of mail to the Camp Post Office. He was being (not so subtley) stalked by Capt Rethug. I inquired of my Lieutenant if I was being disenfranchised? He assured me I wasn't... I never quite trusted my Lieutenant again. Funny thing is... I'd never seen Capt Rethug before any of this and I never saw him after.
I'm not implying that what happened to me is a widespread practice in the U.S. Military. I'm just suggesting that servicemen and women planning to vote for Barack Obama might want to be aware of the possibility of disenfranchisement. They might want to keep their preferences to themselves. It's impossible to call "Bullshit" when the chain of command controls the evidence, the witnesses, the proceedings, and can threaten to ruin your life.
The Pew Charitable Trusts and Operation Bravo are making great efforts to promote the awareness of the myriad other voting problems our troops will experience in November. There is a new voter resource dedicated specifically to Military Servicemen and their dependents residing overseas or away from home at the Overseas Vote Foundation website.
Seeing as how The Secretary of Defense has designated June 28 through July 7, 2008 to be Overseas Citizens Voters Week, I'd like to thank DailyKos for this opportunity to call "BULLSHIT" preemptively.
The following links will take you to the best Military Absentee Ballot page for each state. Some are better than others:
Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachuesetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska or PDF, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin, Wyoming, and theDistrict of Columbia