Requests from military voters for absentee ballots have dropped significantly since 2008 — and by as much as 70 percent in Virginia and Ohio — leading a GOP senator to conclude that they are yet another example of how the U.S. Defense Department under President Barack Obama has failed the nation’s military.
The data released on Monday by the Military Voter Protection Project also prompted claims that the Defense Department is moving slowly in enacting a law meant to increase military voting, Fox News reports.
In the key battleground states of Ohio and Virginia, the drop in requests for absentee ballots was most obvious, Fox reports.
In 2008, Virginia had nearly 42,000 total requests, compared with slightly more than 12,000 this year, according to the MVP Project. Ohio had more than 32,000 in 2008, compared with 9,700 this year.
The number of military voters specifically, compared with military and overseas voters, was not broken down in the latest set of statistics, but military-only numbers released by the MVP Project in August documented a similar drop-off in applications, Fox reports.
In addition, military ballot requests in Virginia were down 92 percent. Several other states showed huge drops since 2008, including Alabama, North Carolina, and Florida.
"We need to make military voting the highest priority — and we need to do it now," MVP Project founder Eric Eversole told Fox.
Texas Sen. John Cornyn, a Republican member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said the numbers marked a "serious failure" by the Pentagon.
"This is an unacceptable failure by Pentagon leaders to comply with the law and ensure our service members and their families are able to exercise one of the most fundamental rights for which they sacrifice every day," Cornyn said in a statement reported by Fox.
The numbers also reflect President Barack Obama’s inability to sway military personnel and veterans, groups who tend to vote Republican. In addition, military members and their families generally vote in higher percentages than the general public, according to federal election data.
But recent polls have shown that veterans nationally are not backing Obama, even though he is leading in battleground states like Ohio, Colorado, Florida, and Virginia.
Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney has a 20-point lead over Obama nationally — and he has even overtaken the president among younger veterans.
Nearly 1 million veterans live each in North Carolina, Ohio, and Virginia, and 1.6 million live in Florida.
The Obama campaign had hoped to connect with these voters by touting the killing of Osama bin Laden, ending Iraq combat operations and winding down the war in Afghanistan, according to news reports.
Both Obama and Romney have been campaigning relentlessly in Ohio and Virginia — both in person and through a barrage of television ads. No Republican has won the White House without winning in Ohio — and a victory there for either candidate could easily tip the election in their favor.
And in the Buckeye State, the Obama campaign sued in July to block early voting for military members. The move brought a quick response from state officials and as many as 15 military groups.
Absentee voting is critical for members of the military, many of them stationed overseas or away from their home state. For this election, absentee ballots have already been sent out to military voters, as required by federal law.
Regarding the MVP Project’s numbers, a spokeswoman with the Defense Department stressed that total numbers on the requests for absentee ballots will not be available until after the election.
But Cmdr. Leslie Hull-Ryde told Fox that 2012 is far different than 2008.
The 2008 cycle had contested primaries for Democrats and Republicans, she said. This year, only the Republicans had a contested primary.
She also adamantly defended the Defense Department’s voter outreach efforts.
Hull-Ryde said that a similar number absentee ballots had been downloaded from the central military website the last time an incumbent president sought re-election back in 2004.
"We are in complete compliance with the law," Hull-Ryde told Fox in a statement. She said the department’s Federal Voting Assistance Program “strives to ensure that every absent military and overseas citizen voter has the tools and resources to receive, cast and return an absentee ballot and have it counted — regardless of who they vote for."
According to the MVP Project, at least two-thirds of service members need to vote absentee — though as of late August, the group reported "an incredibly small percentage" was requesting the ballots.
Across Virginia, North Carolina and Ohio, the group reported that fewer than 2 percent of eligible voters had requested ballots as of August.
"The absentee ballot data for 2012 paints a bleak picture for military voters," an earlier MVP Project report said.
The MVP Project claims that the Defense Department is not fully implementing the 2009 Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment Act (MOVE), which requires absentee ballots to be sent out no later than 45 days before an election. The law also requires "voting assistance offices" to be set up on most military installations.
The MVP Project claims that in some cases, these offices were not only set up after a November 2010 deadline passed, but were also located in areas not associated with the check-in process — meaning military personnel could be less likely to visit them.
"This data should sound an immediate warning bell for military voters," the group's August study said.
But Pam Mitchell, acting director of the Defense Department's Federal Voting Assistance Program, said at a briefing last month that voting assistance "has never been better." The program currently has more than 220 voting assistance offices, Fox reports.
Mitchell acknowledged another recent report from the Department of Defense Inspector General that found the voter assistance offices were not all established "as intended."
Citing a lack of funds, the report suggested that voter assistance information could more effectively be targeted through social media and advertising.
Mitchell explained, however, that the department has set up an online tool to help walk military personnel through the process, and is now using social media like Twitter and Facebook to reach the military population.
"We use email blasts starting last January to every member with a dot-mil email address to remind them how they can register to vote and that it's time to vote," Mitchell told Fox.
The department also has set up a call center that operates five days a week and provides information on how to file an absentee ballot.
"I strongly believe that voting assistance is the best that it has ever been," Mitchell said.
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