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Cornyn Slams Justice Department Over 'Failure' to Protect Military Voting

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Oct. 26, 2004: U.S. Army Sgt. George Scheufele prepares to mail in his completed absentee ballot after voting in the American Presidential and Congressional election while at Camp Eagle in the battle-torn Sadr City neighborhood of Baghdad, Iraq. (AP)

Texas Sen. John Cornyn is calling for congressional hearings into what he suggests is the Justice Department’s failure to protect the voting rights of American soldiers overseas, even as the DOJ announced that it had reached a series of agreements to ensure those voting rights.

States are trying to come into compliance with the Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment (MOVE) Act, which requires absentee ballots to be sent out no later than 45 days before an election. The deadline is Saturday.

The Defense Department last month granted waivers to five states because their alternative accommodations were deemed adequate, and the Justice Department came under fire over allegations that it had encouraged the states to use waivers to bypass the requirement – a charge Justice denies.

Four other states, as well as the District of Columbia and the Virgin Islands, had their waiver requests denied. Since then, Wisconsin has been granted an extension and the Justice Department announced Friday it had reached agreements with Colorado, D.C., the Virgin Islands and Hawaii to ensure they are in compliance with the law. 

Under the agreements, Colorado, Alaska and the Virgin Islands are planning to mail out ballots by the Saturday deadline. D.C.has until Oct. 4 to mail out the ballots and will give soldiers until Nov. 19 to return them. 

Hawaii has until Sept. 24 to send out ballots by express delivery and must provide voters with the means to return them by express delivery free of charge.

But Cornyn, who co-authored the law, wrote a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder railing against the DOJ's response to the act, which was enacted last year. He cited the department's "failure" to demonstrate how it's enforcing the law. 

“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,” he wrote in a Sept. 16 letter obtained by FoxNews.com. 

“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,” Cornyn wrote.

The Texas Republican claims the Justice Department has provided insufficient and incomplete information about compliance for all states, including those that submitted waiver applications. 

In some cases, states expressed concern that their primaries fell too close to the Nov. 2 general election. A couple states were able to comply with the law by moving their Sept. 14 primaries back to August. Others kept the Sept. 14 primary dates, like Delaware, New York, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Wisconsin and Washington, D.C.

Reid Magney, spokesman for the Wisconsin Government Accountability Board, said his state simply could not put together the absentee ballots in time.

“We don’t even have the names of the candidates yet – we won’t for awhile,” he said.

He said Wisconsin can “absolutely” make the extended Oct. 1 deadline – an agreement reached in court with the Justice Department. Under that agreement, absentee ballots will be counted through Nov. 19 -- 17 days after Election Day.

Controversy over the MOVE Act policy heated up over the summer, when former Justice Department attorneys alleged that the voting section encouraged states to get around the mailing requirement by submitting waivers.

Cornyn wrote a letter to Holder in July requesting information about the waiver-requesting states.

Assistant Attorney General Ronald Weich responded with a letter dated July 30, denying accusations that Justice was anything less than fully committed to enforcing the MOVE Act.

"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," Weich wrote.

In his response, Weich also promised to give Cornyn a state-by-state briefing, but sources say Cornyn has still not received the information initially requested about how the agency plans on enforcing the MOVE Act this election season.

The Department of Justice did not respond to an e-mail request for comment Friday.

“It is not yet too late to ensure that the MOVE Act is fully enforced, but it soon will be,” Cornyn wrote.

“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.”