Cornyn: Disenfranchisement of Military Voters Must End
by John Cornyn on September 17, 2010 at 11:35 AM
With the statutory deadline for states to mail military ballots under the Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment Act (MOVE Act) arriving Saturday, I issued another letter today to Attorney General Eric Holder expressing frustration over the failure of the Department of Justice to demonstrate its full enforcement of the law. The full text of the letter is below:
Dear Attorney General Holder:
I write again to express frustration over the failure of the Department of Justice (DoJ) to demonstrate its full enforcement of federal laws that protect the civil rights of our military service members and their families. I have repeatedly requested information that would reveal the DoJ’s level of commitment to protecting military voting rights in every state in the country. In response, the DoJ has provided only cursory information that raises as many questions as it answers.
With a federal election only weeks away, it is past time for the DoJ to take strong and decisive action to enforce the Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment Act (MOVE Act) and related laws. Our service members and their families deserve all of the protections guaranteed by the MOVE Act, and it is your responsibility to enforce these laws. If you fail to do so, the result will be the disenfranchisement of our troops and their families, which we have seen time and time again in recent elections. I intend to call for Senate committee hearings on these issues.
In my July 26, 2010 letter to you, I made several requests pertaining to the protection of military voting rights, including “a state-by-state breakdown regarding compliance with the 45-day requirement for the 2010 general election.” The DoJ has so far provided only incomplete information about the ten states (plus the District of Columbia and the U.S. Virgin Islands) that applied to the Department of Defense (DoD) for waivers from the MOVE Act’s 45-day requirement. The DoJ has not provided any information whatsoever about the 40 states that did not apply for waivers. Full enforcement of the MOVE Act should not be limited to those states that, in the course of filing waiver applications, voluntarily reported compliance information to the Federal Government. Enforcement is just as important in states that did not apply for waivers. A full 50-state breakdown should have been easy to produce, and I had hoped that it would instill confidence that the DoJ is safeguarding the voting rights of our military service members and their families.
The DoJ’s July 30 response referred to letters that the DoJ has sent to every state “seeking to determine their plans for coming into compliance with the MOVE Act by the November 2010 general election.” Despite my office’s repeated requests for copies of these letters and the states’ responses to those letters, the DoJ has not provided them. I ask for copies of these documents again now. I also restate my office’s request for copies of any proposed settlement agreements with jurisdictions, an explanation of how the DoJ will determine whether jurisdictions mail out ballots to voters in accordance with the 45-day requirement, and what steps are being taken to ensure that jurisdictions that received waivers are actually complying with the terms of those waivers.
All of this information should be made a matter of public record as soon as possible, because its subject matter has direct bearing on the ability of our men and women in uniform to exercise their civil rights. Instead, the DoJ has refused these reasonable requests for information, hiding behind vague departmental policies that supposedly bar the release of any information that has bearing on “potential litigation.” The DoJ should make this process transparent. Additionally, I would like to review, by September 21 (three days after the 45-day deadline for jurisdictions to mail out blank absentee ballots to military voters), a separate state-by-state breakdown indicating when each jurisdiction mailed out ballots.
It is not yet too late to ensure that the MOVE Act is fully enforced, but it soon will be. This Saturday marks the 45-day deadline by which the vast majority of jurisdictions are legally obligated to mail out unmarked ballots to military voters. The DoJ must act promptly and aggressively to ensure that “non-waiver jurisdictions” are meeting the 45-day requirement by mailing out ballots this week and that “waiver jurisdictions” are complying with the terms of their waivers. The members of our Armed Forces and their families deserve to have complete confidence that their right to vote is secure. It is my hope that you will provide the information I have requested and thereby demonstrate that the DoJ is vigorously protecting military voting rights.
Last year, Congress enacted the MOVE Act with overwhelming bipartisan support. This law represented the most meaningful reform in this area in decades, but it is not going to enforce itself. Full compliance by the states depends on the DoJ making this a priority. The disenfranchisement of military voters must come to an end. If it is allowed to continue, it will represent a shameful failure to honor the heroic service of those who defend America.
United States Senator