FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: December 18, 2009
SCHUMER, CORNYN ANNOUNCE PENTAGON HEEDS CALL TO PROVIDE UNPRECEDENTED VOTING ASSISTANCE TO EVERY SINGLE SERVICE MEMBER AND FAMILY MEMBER
In Response To Letter From Senators, Defense Dept. To Designate Military Installations Around World As One-Stop Shops For Voter Registration Just As DMVs Are For Civilians
New Policy Means Service Members Will Be Offered Voter Registration Materials And Assistance Whenever They Are Deployed Or Transferred Between Bases
WASHINGTON, DC—U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer (D-NY), Chairman of the Senate Rules Committee, and Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) announced Friday that the Defense Department, in response to urging by the senators, has agreed to provide voter registration materials and assistance to each and every member of the U.S. armed services, as well as their family members.
The decision effectively turns U.S. military bases across the globe into “one-stop shops” for aiding military voters in registering for the first time or updating existing registrations, just as the states’ Departments of Motor Vehicles do for U.S. civilians. The policy change means that the Pentagon would be required to offer voter registration forms at the time of each service member’s entry onto active duty, transfer from one duty station to another, overseas deployment, and on a standing basis. Completed registration forms would then be submitted to the states with the assistance of the military.
“This is a bold step by the Pentagon that will turn U.S. military bases across the globe into one-stop shops for active-duty troops who wish to vote. Together with our legislation, it will guarantee that service members will have easy access to the ballot box no matter where they are deployed. The men and women who put their lives on the line to preserve our democracy must have every access to participate in that democracy,” Schumer said.
“Our troops are almost always absent from their home voting jurisdictions on Election Day, as a result of their military service. Our legislation, which the Pentagon is now implementing, will provide these brave Americans and their families with ‘motor voter'-style registration assistance on military installations, where they spend most of their time. By ensuring their blank ballots actually reach them in time for them to cast their votes and return their ballots, we will help safeguard the voting rights of those who defend our freedom. We should have done this long ago," Sen. Cornyn said.
The senators suggested the idea earlier this month in a letter to Defense Secretary Robert Gates, urging him to exercise his authority under two separate laws to designate all military installations as federal voter registration agencies. The Pentagon indicated that it would heed the request in a response letter sent to the senators on Wednesday. Senator Cornyn placed a hold on Dr. Clifford Stanley, President Obama’s nomination for under secretary of defense for personnel and readiness, the official in charge of military voting, until the Pentagon agreed to change their policy.
The senators’ proposal is a capstone to a major effort undertaken by the U.S. Congress in the last year to ease the military voting process. In October, Schumer and Cornyn, along with Senators Saxby Chambliss (R-GA), Robert Bennett (R-UT) and Ben Nelson (D-NE), teamed up to pass the Military and Overseas Voters Empowerment (MOVE) Act, the first major overhaul of the voting process for the millions of military and overseas voters in decades. This sweeping reform, which has been signed by President Obama, requires states to send out balloting materials to troops deployed overseas at least 45 days prior to an election, and also required states to make ballot and registration materials available electronically. The bill was introduced after a Rules Committee survey last May showed that as many as one in four ballots cast by military and overseas voters went uncounted in last year’s presidential election. The MOVE Act provision that authorized this “military motor-voter” program was modeled after the provisions of S.1265, legislation that Cornyn introduced on June 15.
Together, the MOVE Act and the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA) give the Secretary of Defense the authority and discretion to designate the military services as voter registration agencies. At a hearing before the Senate Rules Committee last spring, a former Justice Department civil rights attorney cited this initiative as essential to improving the voting process for military members.
A copy of Schumer and Cornyn’s letter to Secretary Gates on December 4 appears below. A copy of the Pentagon’s response is attached.
The Honorable Robert M. Gates
Secretary of Defense
1300 Defense Pentagon
Washington, DC 20301-1300
Dear Secretary Gates:
We are writing to urge you to promptly designate the military services as “voter registration agencies” under the existing authority of the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA). This will make it easier for thousands of active-duty members of the military to register and vote. We know that you share our commitment to ensuring that our men and women in uniform are afforded every opportunity to vote in the very democracy they fight to protect and defend.
President Obama signed into law the Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment Act (MOVE) as part of P. L. 111-84, the National Defense Authorization Act, last month. Under the MOVE Act, as well as the existing authority under NVRA, you have the authority and discretion to designate the military services as “voter registration agencies.” This proposal has been developed, in part, based on testimony received at a hearing of the U.S. Senate Committee on Rules and Administration last spring. One witness, a former Department of Justice attorney, indicated that NVRA designation for the Department of Defense was the single most important change necessary to improve military voting. We agree that it is critical.
While the MOVE Act improves how military and overseas voters receive and cast their ballots, this designation is a necessary and final step to support our troops as voters. If the NVRA designation is applied, voter registration forms will be offered to each and every member of the military, and assistance will be provided to help them complete and submit the registration form. NVRA designation will ensure that information is conveyed in a nonpartisan manner and that appropriate oversight is in place. The men and women of the military have a lot of responsibilities, and figuring out how to register to vote should not become a burden.
Many chief state election officials also have determined that they need your assistance in registering their military voters. We strongly support their request.
We hope that you will promptly issue orders to designate the military services as voter registration agencies. Voting should not be an obstacle for our soldiers serving abroad. That’s why we are requesting that the Defense Department make it as easy as possible for them to register to vote.
Thank you for your prompt attention to this matter. We are ready and willing to assist you in this effort.
Charles E. Schumer John Cornyn
Chairman United States Senator
Committee on Rules and Administration
United States Senate