DoJ stalling on protecting voting rights of military?
posted at 12:55 pm on July 28, 2010 by Ed Morrissey
After complaints from several election cycles that thousands of men and women stationed abroad in our military had trouble getting their ballots counted, Congress passed the MOVE Act to force states into compliance. According to one of its authors, Senator John Cornyn (R-TX), the language is unambiguous and creates a mandate for enforcement by the Department of Justice. However, two whistleblowers formerly within the voting-rights section of the DoJ claim that the Obama administration is stalling on enforcement:
The MOVE Act, enacted last October, ensures that servicemen and women serving overseas have ample time to get in their absentee ballots. The result of the DOJ’s alleged inaction in enforcing the act, say Eric Eversole and J. Christian Adams — both former litigation attorneys for the DOJ’s Voting Section — could be that thousands of soldiers’ ballots will arrive too late to be counted.
“It is an absolute shame that the section appears to be spending more time finding ways to avoid the MOVE Act, rather than finding ways to ensure that military voters will have their votes counted,” said Eversole, director of the Military Voter Protection Project, a new organization devoted to ensuring military voting rights. “The Voting Section seems to have forgotten that it has an obligation to enforce federal law, not to find and raise arguments for states to avoid these laws.”
Cornyn has fired off a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder demanding an explanation:
In his letter to Holder, Cornyn cites minutes from the 2010 winter meeting of the National Association of Secretaries of State (NASS), during which Rebecca Wertz, deputy chief of the DOJ’s voting section, told state election officials that the legislative language regarding waivers is not completely clear. Wertz described the provisions of the law as “fairly general” and “somewhat of an open question as to what type of information” a state needs to submit in order to for their waiver application to be granted. She said it was also unclear whether waivers are for one election only, or if they apply to future elections.
According to the meeting’s minutes, obtained by FoxNews.com, Wertz also said “that the DOJ is working to find effective ways to disseminate any information guidance that can help states with different questions about MOVE interpretation. She invited questions and dialogue from states, and said that litigation is always the last resort.”
Cornyn wrote, “If these are the positions of the DOJ, then they fly in the face of the clear statutory language, undermine the provisions in question, and jeopardize the voting rights of our men and women in uniform.”
He said the language of the law makes it clear that there is no ambiguity when it comes to states’ eligibility for being granted a waiver, and that the statute does not leave room for the Justice Department to decide whether to enforce its requirements.
Adams notes that the DoJ website has an entire section for felons looking to recover their voting rights, but nothing at all on MOVE. Their information on military voting pre-dates MOVE and is now inaccurate, Fox News reports, and the DoJ doesn’t appear to consider fixing that a priority.
Several states have either applied for waivers or have indicated that they will, including Washington, Hawaii, New York, Delaware, Maryland, and Alaska. It would be interesting to see why these states (almost all blue states) feel the need to avoid complying with MOVE, and whether they actually qualify for the exemption. It should be a non-partisan notion that every effort to count ballots from military members overseas should be made, which is exactly what MOVE intended. If there’s something wrong with the law, the DoJ should have gone back to Congress rather than start advising states how to avoid compliance.
Congress needs to add this to their list of oversight items that will have to wait for a Congress that bothers to conduct oversight at all.