April 02, 2009

Voter Disenfranchisement in NY-20 Special Election

A lot of ink has been spilled over the meaning of the NY-20 special election that was held in the last week.  The two candidates are currently separated by 25 votes with some 6,000 absentee ballots due by April 14.  The election will come down to these absentee ballots.  Hans A. von Spakovsky reports at The Corner that there is a good chance that military voters may be disenfranchised due to delayed ballot mailing.  
According to the Department of Justice, 1,300 overseas voters requested absentee ballots, 471 of whom are military voters. Unfortunately, it is the military voters who will probably end up being disenfranchised and having their votes discounted, thanks to the irresponsible New York Board of Elections and the half-hearted actions of the Department of Justice.

The problem for military voters in places like Iraq and Afghanistan is that it takes so long for absentee ballots to make the trip by mail from county election officials in the United States to bases in combat zones overseas and back again. As a result, only a tiny percentage of their votes get counted. Non-profit groups examining the issue of ballot delivery times and federal agencies like the U.S. Election Assistance Commission all recommend that absentee ballots be mailed to military voters at least 45 days before they’re due. The Chief of Operations for the Military Postal Service Agency recommends at least 60 days.

In New York, ten counties make up the 20th congressional district, and nine of them sent their absentee ballots to overseas voters too late for them to be received and returned in time to count in this election. One county mailed them on March 12 and eight counties mailed them on March 13, all by regular mail with only one exception — Essex County used an express mail service.

Under New York law, absentee ballots in this race had to be postmarked by March 30, the day before the March 31 election, and received by April 7. That left most military voters only 25 days to receive, mark and return their absentee ballots, which everyone agrees isn’t enough time, given overseas mail delays.

At least we no longer have politicization at DOJ. Right?

The Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice, which is responsible for enforcing the federal statute that guarantees the right of overseas citizens and military personnel to vote by absentee ballot, contacted the New York State Board of Elections and requested that they issue their ballots sooner for this race. The two Republican members of the board voted to support this request. Yet the two Democratic members of the board, shamefully enough, voted against doing so. Were they trying to disenfranchise military voters?

The Justice Department then filed a federal lawsuit on March 24 against the election board and the governor of New York. But the requested remedy was nowhere near what should have been asked for to remedy this problem, and didn’t include any of the measures that we successfully asked for from other courts when I was at the Division coordinating DOJ’s enforcement of this statute.

The only thing DOJ leaders essentially asked for (and got in a consent decree) was an extension of time for the receipt of overseas ballots, from April 7 to April 13. In other words, despite the fact that almost every expert in this area now recommends at least a 45-day transit time for absentee ballots for military voters, Justice asked only for 30. (emphasis added)

As with Eric Holder's opinion shopping, politics seems to rule the day at DOJ in the era of Hope and Change.

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