However, State Elections Official Says Bogus FVAP Posting Not a Big Problem
MacIver News Service | September 27, 2012
[Madison, Wisc...] The Federal Voting Assistance Program admits the biggest problem military voters had in 2008 was getting their ballots returned to local election officials in time to be counted.
"Local election officials receiving voted ballots reported they did not count numerous uniformed services and overseas citizen ballots because they were received after the deadline," states a January press release.
Even though that was identified as the area of primary concern they were tasked to address, the FVAP was providing an incorrect deadline for military voters from Wisconsin until a day ago.
In a story that brought further national embarrassment to the program, the FVAP was found promoting a deadline that, if heeded, could have had devastating affects on Wisconsin's servicemen and women.
The FVAP website incorrectly stated ballots must be postmarked by November 6 and returned to Wisconsin by November 16. The actual deadline for their receipt is 4 p.m. November 9. Any military ballots received in that intervening week would not have been counted by local and state election officials. (See our original story, here).
Rep. Dale Kooyenga (R-Brookfield) attended the United States Army's basic training, Officer Candidate School and the Military Intelligence Officer Course in 2005. Three years later, he spent a year in Iraq as the 4th Infantry Division's Officer in Charge of Economic Development in Baghdad and was awarded the Bronze Star for his service.
The first-term Republican lawmaker was appalled when he learned about the FVAP's error.
"The misinformation is either the result of outright deception or gross incompetence," Kooyenga told the MacIver News Service.
Just two weeks ago, the acting director of FVAP, Pamela Mitchell, testified before Congress, "We provide voting assistance every day, and we've never done it better."
The incorrect information from the website, Kooyenga says, is beyond troubling and leads him to question the entire operation.
"It is remarkable that a governmental agency, solely focused on voting integrity, is so grossly wrong in such an important matter that they are supposed to be the subject matter expert on," said Kooyenga, who was elected to the State Assembly in 2010 and continues to serve as an Officer in the Army Reserve.
Yet, Wisconsin election officials disagree with Kooyenga and are not concerned about the FVAP website error that, if left unchecked, could have disenfranchised thousands of military voters who, although serving overseas, reside in Wisconsin.
"We don't see this as being a big problem," Wisconsin Government Accountability Board Spokesman Reid Magney told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
GAB officials stressed that all Wisconsin voters who requested absentee ballots through them have consistently been given the accurate information.
However, the "FVAP aims to be the primary source of information for absent military and overseas citizen voters," according to Mitchell's Congressional testimony.
Since 2008, the feds have allocated more than $20 million in Department of Defense grants to local and state governments to develop Internet options for military absentee voting.
For example, Wisconsin received $1.9 million to develop an immediate online ballot delivery system for military members. That system is currently up and running.
The quality of these online systems varies greatly from state to state. California received $468,522 to create an interactive voter registration website. The page California created with that money consists of a few paragraphs with links to the FVAP's website. Click here to see how far half a million dollars goes in California.
According to their own website, the FVAP provides U.S. citizens worldwide a broad range of non-partisan information and assistance to facilitate their participation in the democratic process - regardless of where they work or live. The FVAP also administers the Federal responsibilities of the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA), which designates armed forces recruiting offices nationwide as voter registration agencies allowing eligible U.S. citizens to apply for voter registration, or apply to change voter registration data. This is not the first issue with military voting to arise in Wisconsin.
For the first time since 1946, the Wisconsin Primary election was held in August. Previously, primaries for state office and the President were held in September.
State officials changed the law to move it to the second Tuesday in August this year so Wisconsin could comply with a federal law that is supposed to ensure military and overseas voters enough time to vote by absentee ballot.
Even so, during the Presidential Primary, the GAB had to get a "federal consent decree" to allow more time for military ballots to be counted after 65 clerks failed to send out absentee ballots to military voters in time.
The Federal Voting Assistance Program recently underwent a change in leadership, just months before this November's election.
Bob Carey, former director of the FVAP left his post in June to join a Washington, DC lobbying firm. That's when Mitchell took over as acting director.
As the Virginia Watchdog website reported, The Pentagon's Inspector General's office issued a scathing report on the FVAP this month, and noted that only half of America's 229 overseas bases have functioning facilities where troops can register to vote and obtain absentee ballots.
The Department of Defense is suggesting a greater reliance on Internet-based efforts, something the FVAP says they're already doing.
Ironically, during her Congressional testimony just this month, Mitchell touted the organization's 'information rich web portal."
We'll have more reaction to this story as it develops.