Military members abroad have requested fewer absentee ballots this year. The figure is determined by the number of people that downloaded an application for the ballot and registration request. Conservatives, led by Fox News, have been blowing the decline out of proportion, in some cases implying that the Obama administration is responsible. However, an article published today in Stars and Stripes, which first reported on the drop, explains the decline with a few innocuous factors: fewer troops abroad, voter apathy, more voting options, and ballots that are no longer being sent to old addresses.
In October, in a segment on the decrease in requested ballots from absentee military voters, Fox and Friends host Steve Doocy said “some are saying, well, are they trying to disenfranchise the military? We don’t know.” Roger Hedgecock, a conservative radio host and former mayor of San Diego, made a similar charge on Bill Maher’s Real Time show in September. On more than one occasion, Fox News covered a report by the Military Voter Protection Project (MVPP) on the dramatic decrease in ballot requests and added commentary, saying, “This data should sound an immediate warning bell for military voters.” The MVPP report blamed the government’s inability to quickly set up registration offices.
Republicans also commented on the decline. “This is an unacceptable failure by Pentagon leaders to comply with the law and ensure our service members and their families are able to exercise one of the most fundamental rights for which they sacrifice every day,” Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) said.
However, Michael P. Mcdonald, a voting behavior expert and a professor at George Mason University, told Stars and Stripes that MVPP’s report is “poorly sourced,” adding, “It has no credibility and should be treated as such.”
The Federal Voting Assistance Program also debunked MPVV’s report. “The reason there’s a lower number of ballots being transmitted is exclusively the issue of no longer automatically transmitting ballots [to addresses] from prior election cycles,” former FVAP head Bob Carey told Stars and Stripes. What’s more, Carey said, since the MOVE Act, a law that created new voting offices for absentee military voters, passed in 2009, voting access has actually increased for military voters abroad:
“There were no installation voting assistance offices in 2008. There are in 2012. But voter numbers have gone down in 2012, and it’s because the services are not doing the installation voting assistance offices well enough. You can see the fundamental problem with the logic here.”
The reduction in requested absentee ballots can be explained by other factors as well: voter apathy, a decreased number of troops stationed abroad, and the fact that military members might be accessing absentee ballots differently than in the past, with new options like “voting assistance officers and election websites run by the state” rather than making the requests individually. For its part, MVPP told Stars and Stripes that it does not blame the Obama administration for the drop.