Today, House Administration Chairman Dan Lungren, R-Calif., joined Congressman Lamar Smith, R-TX, Chairman of the Committee on the Judiciary, and Congressman Howard McKeon, R-Calif, Chairman of the Committee on Armed Services, in sending a letter to Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta and U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder demanding answers to reports of service members overseas being deprived of their opportunity to vote.
The joint letter highlights concerns over enforcement of federal voting laws specifically designed to protect the voting rights of overseas military personnel. The letter specifically includes legislation championed by the House Committees on House Administration and Armed Services.
These federal laws include the enforcement of the military voting system established by the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act "UOCAVA" and the Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment Act "the MOVE Act". The MOVE Act requires election officials to send out military ballots no later than 45 days before Election Day.
Recent reports have highlighted state inaction and/or errors that would likely lead to the disenfranchisement of overseas military voters. In the letter to Panetta and Holder, the Chairmen expressed the need for immediate action to prepare men and women in uniform from being deprived the right to vote. Recent reports include:
* The Federal Voting Assistance Program (FVAP) website incorrectly listed Wisconsin's ballot return date as seven days after the actual deadline
* On Tuesday, October 2, 2012, the Associated Press reported that jurisdictions in Michigan, Mississippi, Vermont, and Wisconsin had failed to mail ballots to service members by the September 22, 2012, MOVE Act deadline.
* On August 31, 2012, the Department of Defense Inspector General reported that it was unable to contact installation voting assistance offices ("IVAOs") at almost half of all military installations, despite the fact that the MOVE Act requires military services to establish an IVAO at every non-war-zone installation.
The Chairmen included a list of questions related to the ongoing reports of military voter disenfranchisement to ensure that all efforts are being taken to protect the right to vote.
Note: Attached is a copy of the letter to Secretary Panetta and General Holder.
Chairman Lungren issued the following statement:
"There is absolutely no excuse for service members overseas not to be afforded the full opportunity to exercise their right to vote. The ongoing reports indicating that errors and missed deadlines continue to occur are outrageous and we believe the Administration has a role in getting to the bottom of any concerns involving the disenfranchisement of military voters.
"I want to applaud California for the diligent work the state is doing to ensure ballot access is afforded to all military personnel overseas. While there are concerns with other states mishandling ballot information and meeting deadlines, California stands to date as an example of ensuring the right to vote is protected.
"For those in jurisdictions that missed the MOVE Act deadline, I believe that the best course of action is to extend the deadline for accepting military and overseas ballots by the same number of days as the ballots were mailed late. This remedy ensures that the time period for military voters to return their ballots is not diminished by the jurisdiction's error in mailing the ballot after the deadline.
"Our men and women in uniform deserve to have their right to vote protected and guaranteed, and I will continue to act to ensure the disenfranchisement of any member of the Armed Services is handled swiftly."
Summary of Actions by Chairman Lungren:
* A representative from the Committee on House Administration flew to Wisconsin on Friday September 28, 2012 to meet with members of Wisconsin's Government Accountability board and assess next steps in order to protect UOCAVA voters. A meeting was also held with MacIver Institute, the organization responsible for finding the error on FVAP's website.
* Representatives from the Committee on House Administration, along with a representative from the Committee's minority staff, met with officials from the FVAP Friday September 28, 2012, to discuss processes and procedures at the FVAP as well as what FVAP is doing to (a) make sure all other state deadlines are correct and (b) to reach out to potential Wisconsin voters who may be relying on the incorrect deadline.
* A representative from the Committee on House Administration contacted a private overseas voting organization which also had the erroneous date on their website encouraging them to update their information.
* A letter from the Chairman was sent to state election officials reminding them of upcoming deadlines and offering the assistance of the Committee if they encounter additional problems.
* A joint letter signed by Chairman Lungren, Committee on House Administration; Chairman Lamar Smith, Committee on the Judiciary; and Chairman Buck McKeon, Committee on Armed Services, was sent to Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta and Attorney General Eric Holder over the concerns of possible disenfranchisement of military voters overseas.