Respectfully submitted by Lawrence Rafferty (rafflaw)- Guest Blogger
With apologies to the writers of the famous song by the same title, I came across a small news item that didn’t make the big headlines this past week. Our friends in Georgia just don’t seem to get the idea that their citizen soldiers deserve the same right to vote that on military members enjoy. In the upcoming primary elections and general election cycle, Georgia has violated the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act (UOCAVA) by not providing military members the minimum amount of time between elections in order to assure that their absentee ballots arrive in time to actually be counted in the respective elections. At least the Justice Department thinks Georgia does not have the military on its mind!
“The Justice Department has filed suit in federal court against the state of Georgia, alleging that service members, their family members and overseas civilian voters won’t have time to vote by absentee ballot in run-off elections, if they are required. Georgia will hold a federal primary election for its delegation to the House of Representatives on July 31. If a run-off election is required because a candidate fails to receive a majority of votes, Georgia will hold it 21 days later on Aug. 21. By law, under the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act, states must transmit all validly requested ballots to UOCAVA voters at least 45 days before an election, unless a hardship exemption is obtained. According to the lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court in Atlanta, Georgia did not seek a hardship exemption for the Aug. 21 run-off election.” MarineCorps Times
It is amazing to me that in the year 2012 that a State Government would violate a Federal law that is designed to make sure that all of its citizens have an equal chance to vote in all of their statewide elections. Of course, the Georgia Secretary of State complains that the Feds are trying to enjoin or stop the allegedly discriminatory and anti-military actions during the actual elections cycle. “Responding to the lawsuit, Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp said: ‘ “The lawsuit seeks an immediate injunction while Georgia is literally in the middle of the 2012 primary. … The DOJ attempted to twist the state’s arm into agreeing to a consent decree, the terms of which would place unnecessary stresses on the elections administration process, before even filing the lawsuit.” ‘ MarineCorps Times
What the Georgia Secretary of State is not telling you is that the reason the Justice Department wanted a consent decree was that Georgia election law violated the UOCAVA legislation that was designed to protect members of the military from losing their right to vote. The question that should be asked is why would the State of Georgia not correct state legislation that impairs or prevents military members who are currently overseas from voting in their home state’s elections? Especially when that legislation is in violation of current Federal legislation to the contrary?
When our military members are deployed overseas. their hardships are great enough without putting up artificial barriers to their right to vote. Could these actions in Georgia be an attempt to prevent the military members and non-military Georgia citizens who are overseas from voting for political reasons? Why wouldn’t a Secretary of State want all of his/her deployed military and overseas citizens to have the ability to get their absentee ballots counted in every election? Why would the Secretary of State be surprised when the Justice Department comes calling when Georgia won’t reasonably attempt to follow a law designed only to allow all citizens the right to vote in every election?
I see the right to vote as a non-partisan issue that should concern all citizens, no matter what your political leanings are. In fact, the Heritage Foundation, a prominent Conservative think tank, held a military voting rights conference in July, 2011 to study whether the UOCAVA has been effective in reducing disenfranchisement of military voters. The Preamble to the Agenda for that conference stated the following purpose for the conference: “Overseas members of the military and their families are guaranteed the right to vote by the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act. However, the difficulties of obtaining ballots in remote and dangerous areas of the world and returning them in time have led to shockingly high rates of disenfranchisement. The Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment Act (MOVE Act) of 2009 required changes by 2010 intended to provide military voters greater opportunities to vote. Was the MOVE Act effective or are additional changes necessary to protect the franchise of service members and their families?” Heritage.org
I guess Georgia did not get the message that the laws preventing military members from getting their ballots and votes in on time needed to be changed by 2010. Are laws such as the Georgia ones mentioned above designed to intentionally prevent people from voting or is it just sheer governmental ignorance that causes a State to make it more difficult for some of its citizens to vote in all of its elections? Did Georgia do everything that they could have to reasonably attempt to honor the deployed military member’s right to vote?
Do these measures in Georgia have anything to do with the attempts in many states to require allegedly restrictive Voter ID steps to be taken by voters? As you can see, I have a lot of questions, but not a lot of answers. That’s why you, the reader are vitally important to this discussion. What are your answers and how do you see it? What questions have I not asked?
Additional reference: UOCAVA