There are new developments into accusations that the Department of Justice may not plan to actively enforce a law aimed at protecting the voting rights of troops serving overseas. The claims stem from remarks made by Department of Justice official Rebecca Wertz in February, speaking at a gathering of state elections officials. According to the Washington Times, one attendee said that Wertz suggested that portions of the law in question are vague - and that if states are not 100% in compliance the Department of Justice will not crack down on them. Writing for the Washington Times, Quin Hillyer reports that others who also attended the meeting did not dispute that version of Wertz's remarks.
After reviewing minutes of the February meeting Senator John Cornyn, R-Texas, who co-authored the Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment (MOVE) Act, wrote a letter to the DOJ demanding answers. It reads in part:
According to the minutes of the 2010 Winter meeting of the National Association of Secretaries of State ("NASS"), the Deputy Chief of the Voting Section told state election officials that ... provisions of the law are "fairly general," that it is "somewhat of an open question as to what type of information" a state must submit ... and that litigation to enforce the provisions of the MOVE Act against the states "is always the last resort." 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.
The DOJ responded to Cornyn's letter saying it is "firmly committed to ensuring that our men and women serving in the uniformed services and living overseas have the opportunity to vote." The letter went on to say that any suggestion to the contrary "is simply untrue." DOJ also says that the comments that distressed Cornyn "were taken out of context of misinterpreted." Hillyer says, "The people I've talked with made it sound like the context made her remarks even worse ... if they were taken out of context at all, they were taken out of context in her favor."
While Cornyn tells FOX he is pleased that the DOJ has responded to his concerns, the issue is far from settled. Members of his staff are scheduled to meet with DOJ staffers sometime next week. He isn't the only lawmaker demanding answers. Congressman Bob Latta (R-OH) has sent a letter to the head of the Federal Voting Assistance Program within the Department of Defense. Latta says that the MOVE Act leaves "no discretion for the Executive Branch to decide whether or not to enforce its legal requirements." Latta also asks that the Program clarify its understanding of the law so that lawmakers can be sure its "clear intent" is followed. On Wednesday Cornyn said, "This is not a partisan issue, it's about making sure that the people who defend our freedoms have the very basic civil right - the right to vote."