A new report by the Department of Defense inspector general reveals that approximately half of U.S. military bases lack legally required facilities designed to assist service members through the voting process.
According to the 2009 Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment Act, all military installations throughout the world, with the exception of those located in warzones, must operate a voter assistance office to provide troops with access to voter registration and absentee ballot materials. While the law said the installation voting assistance offices (IVAOs) would open in 2010, an investigation by the DoD found that only 114 of the 229 IVAOs listed by the Federal Voting Assistance Program (FVAP) were operational.
“To assess effectiveness of DoD efforts to establish IVAOs, we attempted to contact 100 percent of the installations identified by the FVAP website,” reads the report, which was published in late August. “Results were clear. Our attempts to contact IVAOs failed about 50 percent of the time.”
While FVAP director Pam Mitchell blamed the communication gap on outdated contact information during a press conference Tuesday, the report cites a lack of funding as the primary reason why many of the facilities have yet to be established, emphasizing that the MOVE Act did not provide additional appropriations to cover the estimated $20 million it would take to launch and sustain the IVAO initiative. However, Eric Eversole, founder and executive director of the Military Voter Protection Project, rejects this explanation.
“The claim is laughable,” said Eversole. “In fiscal years 2011 and 2012, FVAP received a combined $75 million in federal appropriations. To put this into perspective, they received $17.4 million for fiscal year 2010.”
Eversole says that rather than use the funds to install the voter assistance facilities, which are mandatory under the MOVE Act, FVAP has funneled at least $25 million over the past two fiscal years into developing technology pilot programs that were suggested as optional enterprises within the law. While Eversole says these new programs do not offer service members with much more than what was previously available to them, the report overwhelmingly supports further development of technological outreach.
“[DoD officials] noted that younger military personnel were the biggest DoD military population segment and emphasized that IVAOs were likely not the most cost effective way to reach out to them given their familiarity and general preference for communicating via on-line social media and obtaining information from internet websites,” reads the report. “Moreover, FVAP officials indicated that investing in intuitive, easy-to-use web-based tools, rather than IVAOs—could substantially reduce cost and improve voting assistance.”
While Eversole believes social media can be a useful tool for military voters, he maintains that it “definitely does not replace the in-person services available to civilians.”
The House Armed Services Committee will hold a hearing on the voting assistance program for military personnel on September 13. With November quickly approaching, Eversole says the hearing should focus on ensuring that service members will be able have their voices heard on Election Day.
“The hearing should not be about making excuses or averting attention from the bigger picture,” said Eversole. “It should be about making sure men and women in uniform are able to get registered and can cast absentee ballots, making that the priority.”