Voter Suppression Will Disenfranchise Troops. Now, the Pentagon Must Tell Us How Many

The voting rights of our men and women in uniform are under attack, and it's time for the Pentagon to take action.

As has been reported for the past few months, there are dozens of efforts to restrict ballot access, both under consideration and already enacted from Pennsylvania to Wisconsin. We know that thousands upon thousands will have their right to vote impeded by these laws. What we don't know, however, is how many men and women in uniform will be among them.

For example, we know in Colorado that many troops would be disenfranchised by the 2011 decision of Secretary of State Scott Gessler to order that no ballots be sent to so-called "inactive voters" -- those voters who did not vote in 2010. We know from news reports that this would disenfranchise 64 active duty troops in one county in Colorado. But there has been no review done on how many troops would be disenfranchised state-wide.

We know that in Missouri, a version of legislation passed through the State House that would eliminate mail-in absentee ballots for all members of the military, who are unable to cast their vote in person. The legislation allows those in combat zones to submit their ballot via fax or email, which can make it nearly impossible for many who are in the field. There is no such provision for those who are stationed at overseas bases, such as in Germany or Korea, or at U.S. bases far away from the state. We know that about 11,000 troops from Missouri voted by absentee ballot in 2008, but there has been no review to determine how many troops potentially would be disenfranchised in 2012.

And in Florida, as the Center for American Progress discovered, we know of at least one case where a veteran was wrongly booted from the voter rolls, in a purge that supposedly was supposed to target non-citizens who are registered. We have no idea how many troops may have been affected by the purge, or if the state has been able to contact any deployed troops who were, to allow them to appeal.

Citizens, lawmakers, and judges who may consider any legal action against these measures should know how many troops each of these efforts would disenfranchise. Yet no comprehensive review of all of these proposed and enacted laws has been done. It must be.

Today, launched a petition calling on Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta to order a comprehensive review of each of these voter suppression laws and proposals. We are doing so, because we already know that some of these efforts would, indeed, keep troops from voting.

The Department of Defense, after conducting a review, should determine if any of these proposals are in violation of the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act.

As the Department of Defense is charged with administering the Act under the Federal Voting Assistance Program and a Presidential Executive order signed by President Reagan on June 9, 1988 ordered the Secretary of Defense to be the designee for enforcement of the Act, conducting such a review of these enacted and proposed voter suppression efforts is not just under DOD purview, but its legal responsibility.

Our men and women in uniform swear to uphold our Constitution -- the core of which is our right to vote. Any effort which would impede their ability to vote is not just un-American, but a violation of the law. Yet, until a real review of these efforts is done by the Department of Defense, citizens, lawmakers, and judges will not know how many troops may not be able to vote in 2012. Getting that information out is critical.