The right to cast one’s vote may not be the most glamorous of rights, but it should go without saying that it is an integral part of the democratic process. And regardless of whether America’s current conflicts abroad tickle your fancy, surely the men and women fighting in the service of our country deserve the same right to cast their vote for the offices running our great state, right? Behold, I give you government clusterfuckery at some of its finest.
Getting absentee ballots to overseas service members, on the surface, seems to be a perfectly legitimate concern; if someone is willing to put their life on the line for this country, the least we can do is ensure they get a single piece of paper with some names on it. Wisconsin has a fairly stellar record of not only ensuring absentee ballots get out, but Wisconsin residents abroad have taken up the responsibility with gusto; the Pew Center on the States put Wisconsin in the nation’s top 10 after it was found that Wisconsin residents completed issued absentee ballots in a mere 26 days.
Given the relatively late date of the upcoming primary, clerks and officials voiced some concern as to whether the mailing of absentee ballots, required to be sent 45 days prior to the election, and their totaling in the days after the election would be too much of a burden to be handled quickly, efficiently and accurately. A modest proposal, no? Apparently not.
In order to address the issue of the late primary, the state applied for a one-time waiver to be exempted from the 45-day requirement. The U.S. Department of Defense took the sensible route and put a constitutional right of thousands of soldiers, Marines, sailors and airmen in jeopardy. Supporting and defending the Constitution should not be based on convenience; luckily, both the federal and state Department of Justice were able to reach an agreement that would ultimately allow for the waiver to be granted.
The new terms of the waiver stipulate that the ballots are to go out by Oct. 1 and be returned by the Nov. 19 deadline. It also required that the state make a concerted effort to inform its uniformed voters overseas of the deadlines and assist in any way necessary to facilitate an efficient mailing, filling out and collecting of the absentee ballots.
So now we come to the crux of the issue, namely, why the hell this was an issue to begin with?
Given the state’s record concerning absentee ballots, with just under 4 percent of absentee ballots issued for the 2008 presidential election being rejected due to errors, there is no reason for the delay brought about by the Department of Defense. After all, the waiver granted is for all intents and purposes nearly identical to what had been issued to numerous other states, save a few days difference associated with the dates of respective primaries.
Was this an attempt by the Department of Defense to marginalize the input of those serving overseas? No, absolutely not. The DoD may have made some questionable decisions at points, but these are not stupid people. Though when government resources are utilized, or rather wasted, only to end up back where we started, perhaps stupid isn’t so far off.
Jake Begun (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a junior majoring in journalism.