[Image courtesy of military.com]
Three years after the enactment of the Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment (MOVE) Act of 2009, a new report by the Department of Defense's inspector general found that MOVE's requirement of installation voting assistance offices (IVAO) on all non-warzone facilities is not being implemented across the globe. More specifically, IG researchers attempted to call every IVAO identified by the Federal Voting Assistance Program. The report says the "results were clear," with about half of IVAOs unreachable.
Those findings have touched off an interesting debate in Washington. One of the IG's recommendations is to amend MOVE to make IVAOs discretionary, not mandatory:
DoD officials also posed concerns about IVAO effectiveness. They 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. They suggested assistance might be provided more effectively and efficiently by targeted advertising, technology, like Twitter and Facebook, and online tools, supplemented by well-trained unit voting assistance officers, who are already in place.
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.
MOVE Act co-sponsor U.S. Senator John Cornyn disagrees, and is reportedly sending Defense Secretary Leon Panetta a letter in which he says "With great disappointment, we have concluded that the Department of Defense stands in clear violation of a central provision of this federal law ...The price of [DoD's] failure to follow the law will likely be paid this November by military service members and their families."
Advocates for military voters are equally concerned. Eric Eversole of the Military Voter Protection (MVP) Project told the Washington Times "It's disappointing. This [IVAO requirement] was the will of Congress ... Here you have an agency [the Pentagon] that basically said to Congress, 'We're not going to do what you told us to do. We think we know more about voter registration than you do and we're not going to do it.'?"
Eversole's concern likely stems from a recent report showing that 2012 military absentee voting requests are down sharply from 2008:
Of the 126,251 active duty military members and spouses in Virginia, only 1,746 have requested absentee ballots for the November election. Similarly, in North Carolina and Ohio, less than 2,000 absentee military ballots have been requested by military members and their spouses in those states. Overall, in these three states, less than 2 percent of eligible military voters (5,411 out of 288,961) have requested absentee ballots.
In some ways, the tug-of-war over the need for IVAOs mirrors the emerging fights over efforts to use MOVE to justify ballot delivery and return procedures that are beginning to look like Internet voting. Each of these arguments boils down to the relative merits of two approaches: physically locating people and materials wherever in the world voters are, or using technology to create a virtual presence for these voters. Each has advantages and disadvantages, but the choice between physical and virtual is likely to dominate the debate far beyond the first presidential debate in the post-MOVE era.