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Commentary

Military voters: Don't shortchange us

Special To The Tampa Tribune
Published:   |   Updated: March 18, 2013 at 06:54 PM

On Oct. 28, 2009, President Obama signed into law the Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment (MOVE) Act — a bill designed to make voting easier and more accessible for military personnel stationed around the world.

Three years later, most provisions of that law still have not been implemented, resulting in what could be an all-time low in military voter participation during the 2012 election.

In short, Washington's inattention to the obstacles facing service members has led to military personnel becoming the most disenfranchised voting population in America.

Florida residents have particularly strong ties to our nation's military. The Sunshine State is host to more than 42,000 military personnel at more than 20 military installations around the state, and thousands of service members from Florida are stationed around the world.

Moreover, the state boasts one of the nation's largest populations of military veterans — more than 1.6 million call Florida home.

Given the closeness of this year's presidential election, and Florida's position as a presidential "swing state," both parties should be deeply invested in ensuring that military voters are heard. Unfortunately, with the difficulties of requesting, obtaining and returning an absentee ballot from remote locations such as Afghanistan or an aircraft carrier, many military voters are simply giving up and not casting a vote.

Despite hard work from state-level leaders in Florida, ballots requested by military members and their spouses are down an alarming 50 percent from 2008, according to the Military Voter Protection Project. Sadly, Florida's numbers are better than most states — many of which are down over 80 percent in that same time period.

I've witnessed the difficulties of military voting firsthand. During the 2004 election, I was my company's voter assistance officer while stationed in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. With 130 infantrymen from multiple states in my platoon, making sure everyone was able to vote was a challenge.

We had to navigate a thicket of state laws to request and return ballots; in many cases, ballots were lost and had to be re-requested. Since we weren't under fire, we could get it done, albeit with serious difficulty and a hefty time commitment. I imagine that for platoon leaders in Iraq or Afghanistan, it was a different story.

These difficulties are all too familiar to our service members. U.S. citizens stationed at all corners of the globe seek to exercise their right to vote, but too often are ill-served by poorly organized, inefficient and sometimes incompetent state and local election authorities.

We can do better.

At Concerned Veterans for America, we're determined to draw more attention to the travails of military voters. That's why we've launched the "We Can Do Better" bus tour coming through Florida this week.

Join us in sending a clear message to Washington that it's past time to make military voting a priority. They deserve better, and we can do better.


Pete Hegseth is the CEO of Concerned Veterans for America and the former executive director of Vets for Freedom. He is an infantry officer in the Army National Guard and has served tours in Afghanistan and Iraq and at Guantanamo Bay. Members of Concerned Veterans for America are scheduled to be in Tampa on Thursday. To learn more, visit www.concernedveteransforamerica.org.

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