The votes of at least 1 in 4 U.S. soldiers and overseas voters in last fall’s election never were counted.
That’s the conclusion of a recent report by the National Defense Committee, a private, pro-military organization that surveyed local election offices across the country about the number of absentee votes cast and counted in the Nov. 3 election.
In all, more than 30,000 of the 131,000 absentee ballots sent by troops and expatriates to 760 local elections offices around the country were not counted, the report found. Those offices represent about 10 percent of the 7,800 offices nationwide.
This disenfranchisement rate was a bit better than that of the 2000 presidential election, where widespread voting and mail glitches left about 29 percent of the ballots uncounted.
Even so, the organization said its study likely suffered from an undercount of its own that could make the number of troops left voteless last year even larger.
“The disenfranchisement rate we show is bad enough, but we think that our report probably understates the problem because we are relying on voluntary responses from election officials,” the report said.
Last year, the Pentagon launched a concerted effort to make voting easier and more efficient this time for the approximately 160,000 U.S. troops in harm’s way in Iraq and Afghanistan at the time, as well as for another 350,000 American GIs overseas.
The Pentagon had hoped to allow 100,000 troops to vote via the Internet in the 2004 election, but canceled the experiment because of ballot security concerns.
Instead, the military worked with the U.S. Postal Service to sort overseas voting mail into special trays and sent via Express Mail to their destinations. But mail delivery was erratic at best in the war zones, where troops often are on the move and roadside bombs and ambushes can make travel deadly.
As it has after previous votes, the Pentagon’s Federal Voting Assistance Project is compiling its own report on the 2004 election performance.
The defense committee said voting foul-ups are certain to continue as long as the military relies on paper ballots.
“The underlying problem is that we, as a nation, are still conducting absentee voting essentially as we did during World War II, by shipping pieces of paper around the world by snail mail,” the report concluded. “Surely if we can send these American men and women into combat at the risk of losing their lives, we can take the time to fix this system, both legislatively and logistically.”
(E-mail Lisa Hoffman at HoffmanL(at)shns.com.)