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Military Voting Rights at Risk

It's just 79 days until the mid-term election, and as Republicans hope to change the balance of power in Washington, there is still a serious threat to the voting rights of some of our troops in harm's way.

This issue was supposed to have been settled. The MOVE (Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment) Act, which was signed into law 10 months ago, was enacted to ensure that the troops serving overseas have 45 days to get in their absentee ballots. The thinking was that it would take that long to receive the proper forms in a warzone and return them to be counted. There is a loophole, however; a state can apply for a waiver if it can prove a specific "undue hardship" in enforcing it.

Before the act was in place, analysis by the federal Election Assistance Commission, estimated overseas and absentee military voting rates for the 2006 midterm elections was a pathetic 5.5 percent. In 2008, about 17,000 servicemen and women were denied the right to vote.

M. Eric Eversole, the executive director of the Military Voter Protection (MVP) Project and former litigation attorney in the Justice Department's Voting Section, wants to know why military voters are being involuntarily disenfranchised. He and J. Christian Adams accused the Justice Department of encouraging states to use waivers to bypass the MOVE Act.

The accusations prompted Senator John Cornyn (R-Texas) to write a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder, demanding answers and requesting specific information about how the agency was going to enforce the MOVE Act provision.

Assistant Attorney General Ronald Weich responded: "The Department of Justice is firmly committed to ensuring that our men and women serving in the uniformed services and living overseas have the opportunity to vote and to have their votes counted. Any suggestion to the contrary is simply untrue."

Yet the Obama administration refuses to release the waiver requests filed by a dozen states and territories claiming an inability to meet the legal deadline. Eversole and 17 members of Congress led by Rep. Robert E. Latta (R-Ohio), sought this information through formal requests. By Eversole's count, nearly one-third of the states have failed to implement one or more of the key provisions of the MOVE Act, with at least 11 states having not yet implemented the 45-day deadline for mailing absentee ballots, and at least five states having not implemented the electronic-delivery requirement under the MOVE Act.

Sen. Cornyn told Fox he doesn't want to see "foot-dragging at the state level or through federal bureaucracy." Mainly, he says he just wants answers. "I would be very interested in seeing the reasons documented why they feel like it's impossible for them to comply," Sen. Cornyn explained. "That's the only excuse, if it's impossible. Not if it's inconvenient, not if they don't want to for any host of other reasons."

Most of the states that requested waivers did so because of time pressures. For example, Rhode Island's Secretary of State A Ralph Mollis said the date of their primary prohibits The Ocean State from having mail ballots ready 45 days before an election. Maryland and Wisconsin gave similar reasons.

Colorado Secretary of State Bernie Buescher thinks opponents are just playing politics. He claimed he had not only informed both parties of the legislative fixes needed to comply with the MOVE Act, but also had worked to develop legislation last year that would have guaranteed troops had more time and access to make their vote count.

On America's News HQ, Secretary Buescher told Shannon Bream that although Colorado is not explicitly able to follow federal guidelines under the MOVE Act, Colorado's military men and women will get every opportunity to vote.

"The problem is that because we have a late primary and we have a very careful certification process to make sure the integrity of our elections is good, some of our counties, mostly the smaller counties, have a difficult time complying with the 45-day period," Buescher clarified. "So they may be mailing out the ballots 40 days -- but if you look at the 40 days, and add the 8 days that our state adds on to count ballots after the general election date of November 2, we're actually giving more days for our military than is required by the Move Act."

Also on America's News HQ, Eversole called out Secretary Buescher and the efforts of his underlings, suggesting that the Centennial State isn't giving it their all. "We've got to find a better excuse or reason not to comply with the Move Act than the fact that it takes 15 days to print ballots," Eversole said, visibly exasperated. "Walk down to Kinkos, put it in the copier, print them, and get them to troops so they have time to vote."

That didn't sit well with the Secretary, who shot back, "That's a statement of a Washington insider who's never actually been in some of the counties and seen how they have to prepare the ballot." He continued: "To suggest that you can just walk across the street to Kinkos isn't - isn't consistent with reality. ... To suggest that these county clerks don't work hard doesn't -- just doesn't comport with reality."

Meanwhile, Washington State's Secretary of State Sam Reed said his office is surveying the 50,000 military and overseas voters to see if they'd like to receive their blank ballots by e-mail rather than postal mail.

"I worry because there is not the kind of transparency that we can judge for ourselves whether it's being used as an excuse to block military voting or whether there are legitimate problems," Sen. Cornyn told Fox News. "If there are legitimate problems then we want to work to try and overcome those obstacles not maintain them."

So, why could this issue become political dynamite as we head to November? According to Cook Political Report, there are toss-ups in 11 Senate races and 30 house races. Make no mistake, there's a possibility that some of these races could go the other way, based on military and overseas votes.

Despite some reports to the contrary, military votes were tallied in the Franken-Coleman Senate recount of 2008, in which Franken won by just 312 votes. At the time, Minnesota Secretary of State Mark Ritchie said the overseas and military voters played a critical, if largely overlooked, role in his state's elections. Minnesota reportedly sent 5,745 absentee ballots to military personnel stationed overseas and their dependents, with 3,702 returned. Though 306 were rejected by election officials, that is still a half dozen votes shy of the victory margin.

In the Florida Presidential Election in 2000, George W Bush maneuvered in court to force Florida officials to count military ballots that came late or mislabeled. Those ballots pumped up Bush's lead, allowing him to edge Vice President Al Gore by 537 votes.