Reale Simple

The world is more than what they tell you. Listen up. It's not complex. It's Reale Simple.

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Former USCHO writer, former writer at a Midwestern broadsheet, occassional CHN blogger.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Silencing the Military's Voice

David Paterson, this one's for you.

I gave up a year of my life serving my country overseas. That's 365 days of being away from the people and places that I hold dear to my heart. It's sacrificing job opportunities, potential salary, and personal freedoms for the chance to put my life on the line, day after excruciatingly long day. Without our military, the most basic of freedoms that are taken for granted by so many in this country, the freedoms of speech, religion, the press, and the freedom to choose our leaders paramount among them, would cease to be.

John McHugh was appointed Secretary of the Army on June 2nd. For those of you keeping score at home, that was four months ago, so this special election that's coming up, we've seen it coming for some time.

Yes, it's true that the nomination, after over two months of procedure, was held up by the senatorial contingent from Kansas, which was concerned that the Obama administration might place prisoners from Guantanamo Bay in their state. Yes, this kept Mr. McHugh from leaving his seat until September. But the senators' beef was not with McHugh, a member of their own party. There was never much doubt that McHugh would eventually get his Senate vote and, as an uncontroversial nominee, eventually become Secretary of the Army.

After another month of the hold, the senators allowed a vote on McHugh's nomination, at which point observers remarked that the prudent thing to do logistically for the special election that would result from his move to the Pentagon would be for November 3rd - Election Day.

McHugh was confirmed on the 16th of September. He was sworn in on the 21st. Governor David Paterson must have called the special election on the 21st or the 22nd, right? I mean, this had been almost four months in the making.

Try the 29th - more than a week later.

Why does this matter? Well, for a soldier serving overseas, it matters quite a bit. The election was called for 36 days after Paterson's proclamation on September 29th. A soldier who wants to vote has to send a request for a military ballot to their county board of elections. Based on my own observations, that can take over a week to arrive back in New York. The board then mails out a military ballot, which takes another week. Assuming that the soldier isn't too busy to pick up his or her mail everyday - or that they receive mail everyday in the first place - they then fill out their ballot and put it back in the mail, which takes another week to return.

That doesn't leave much room for error in the process. Soldiers, after all, have a lot more on their mind than their ballot.

I experienced this squeeze first hand earlier this year when I voted in the NY-20 special election that was called to fill the vacant seat of Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand. Paterson set the election on February 23rd for March 31st, which was also a 36 day difference. As soon as the election was called, I started the process I described above. Did my ballot get counted? I'm not optimistic.

The U.S. Election Assistance Commission recommended absentee ballots be mailed to military voters at least 45 days before they are due, [Justice Department official Hans] von Spakovsky said. And the chief of operations at the Military Postal Service Agency recommended at least 60 days.
That's MAILED absentee ballots. How can they do that when the election is called with such a short amount of turn-around time?

That week between Secretary McHugh's swearing-in and Paterson's election proclamation could have been used to help get those military ballots in the hands of voters in a timely manner, but nothing could be done until the proclamation. During that time, it was repeatedly mentioned that the NY-23 special election would probably be held on Election Day for the sake of saving money. What was the hold up?

It's no big secret that the vast majority of the military leans to the right politically - I've told friends that my time on deployment was the only time in my life where I felt like I was the liberal of the group - and a second consecutive snap election from Democrat David Paterson is beginning to look peculiar.

But this time, it's even worse. Of all of the 29 congressional districts in New York State, there is none more closely linked to the military than the 23rd, which includes Fort Drum, home of the Army's 10th Mountain Division. And wouldn't you know it? Much of the 10th Mountain is deployed - the 3rd Brigade Combat Team is currently in eastern Afghanistan, while the 1st and 2nd BCTs are in the middle of deploying to Afghanistan and Iraq respectively, making it even more difficult for them to be able to cast ballots.

The bottom line is that in any special election, the voting group that needs the most consideration and, quite frankly, protection, are the servicemen and servicewomen who are deployed, fighting their country's wars. While it is they who provide the backing for our right to vote, too often they are administratively denied that right.

I'm proud to have had the chance to serve my country. Looking back, seeing everything that I gave up and all the hardships that I endured, I still would have done it all over again. But now, having returned home to see parties and politicians continually trying to do the politically expedient thing instead of doing the right thing, it's enough to get me more than a little upset.

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