Amid reports that several states, though not New Jersey, failed to send out absentee ballots to military personnel and their families by the legally-required date, U.S. Representative Frank A. LoBiondo (NJ-02) has petitioned U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder about the status of the absentee ballots to ensure the civil rights of service members are protected.
"Our servicemen and women, and their families, selflessly serve their country abroad. Each day, they fight to protect the values and rights of all Americans, often in dangerous situations. It is our duty to ensure that their constitutional right to vote is protected and preserved," said LoBiondo, a member of the House Armed Services Committee.
In October 2009, Congress passed the "Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment Act" (MOVE Act) which requires states to mail unmarked absentee ballots to military and overseas voters at least 45 days prior to an election. States were therefore mandated to send out absentee ballots by September 18, 2010 for the November 2, 2010 general election. It has been reported that sixteen (16) states failed to send absentee ballots on time. LoBiondo joined Representative Duncan Hunter (CA-52) on the bipartisan letter to the Justice Department to ensure all states have since sent absentee ballots to military and overseas voters.
Full text of the letter sent to Attorney General Holder is as follows:
Dear Attorney General Holder:
As you are well aware, Congress passed the Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment Act (MOVE Act) in October, 2009. The MOVE Act requires states to mail unmarked absentee ballots to military and overseas voters at least 45 days prior to an election. While the legislation does allow for states to apply for a waiver from the 45-day requirement, this waiver is to be approved only when it has been determined that a jurisdiction is "unable" to comply with this law because of one of three specific circumstances.
It is our understanding that requests have been made from Members of Congress to the Department of Justice (DoJ) for a state-by-state breakdown regarding compliance with the 45-day requirement for the 2010 general election. While information was provided about the ten states that requested a waiver from the Department of Defense, including the District of Columbia and the U.S. Virgin Islands, information about the 40 states that did not request a waiver has yet to be provided.
The 45-day requirement for states to mail these unmarked absentee ballots to military and overseas voters has come and gone and it is imperative that the DoJ provide detailed information on the ability of each state to comply with this 45-day requirement. In addition to ensuring each state follows the letter of the law, this process should be made open and completely transparent so that there is no concern that everything is being done to make certain that our men and women serving overseas and in harm's way can exercise their constitutional right to vote.
Furthermore, the DoJ must act quickly to ensure that those jurisdictions which did not request or receive a waiver, mailed out their absentee ballots by the 45-day requirement which was Saturday, September 18, 2010 and that those jurisdictions that did receive a waiver will comply with the terms of their waiver. Our military men and women and their families have sacrificed too much for our country to have their government take a laissez-faire approach when it comes to protecting their civil rights. We need to make every effort to right this wrong and instill confidence in our Armed Forces that their voice does matter in the political process.
Congress started with the MOVE Act, it is now time for the states, other jurisdictions and the DoJ to do their part. We look forward to your prompt reply and working with you on this important matter as we continue to end the disenfranchisement of military voters.
When Congress returns, it is expected that the House Armed Services Committee will hold hearings into the issue.