As the late Bill Hicks acidly said, “I support the war, but I oppose the troops.”
I feel that way sometimes when I think about the general trend over the last decade to drop traditional protections against fraud when it comes to making it easier for soldiers to vote.
Specifically, I am concerned by the level of support that is sometimes voiced for voting online, which (as Marc Ambinder of The Week has pointed out), is a terrible idea. See: http://theweek.com/article/index/267191/why-internet-voting-is-a-very-dangerous-idea
Now, people whose job description includes “dying” in the list of “other duties as assigned” deserve a great deal of respect, and military voters experience a number of serious impediments to voting, not the least of which is that soldiers have no say in or control over where they are expected to be on any given day, and are moved all over the world without notice. Additionally, members of the armed forces are frequently sent to places where no human being could reasonably expect to successfully request or submit a ballot by mail.
How often do people on submarines get mail, and what friendly postal carriers efficiently deliver international mail in nightmarish war zones? Is it likely that military personnel working under deep cover, or behind enemy lines, will regularly be able to pop down to the chemist’s to buy some stamps? Sure, there are diplomatic pouches and State Department couriers, as well as mail delivery services that are integral to military units, but those forms of written communication are still vulnerable to relatively inexpensive heat-seeking surface-to-air missiles, overtaxed logistic resources, and limited access.
I want to be clear that I am not unsympathetic to the complaints and problems faced by people who (for the sake of membership in the military) have given up certain alienable constitutional rights and privileges in return for the sanction to wield deadly force.
But there’s that whole “willing sacrifice of certain alienable constitutional rights and privileges” that soldiers acknowledge by their oath on enlistment. Shouldn’t that legal aspect of military service somewhat diminish my feelings of civilian guilt over the fact that soldiers have a hard time casting absentee ballots?
While citizen-soldiers are still citizens in the broadest sense, their access to the rights afforded to civilians is limited by their obligation to follow orders and submit to military discipline. Soldiers do not enjoy unlimited freedom of speech, the same remedies or protections in the course of being prosecuted for crimes, or the same rights to sue for civil injuries.
Nevertheless, we allow members of the armed forces and their spouses and dependents the right to demand the electronic delivery of ballots (notwithstanding the risks of impersonation, misdelivery, or duplication of these ballots), and do not require members of the military to be registered to vote in order to receive ballots for federal elections. (The amended text of the Uniformed and Overseas Civilians Absentee Voting Act is available from a number of sources, including the Department of Justice. http://www.justice.gov/crt/about/vot/42usc/subch_ig2.php).
The very people who scream the loudest about the need for punitive voter I.D. laws remain uncharacteristically silent on the risks of fraud posed by the dramatic relaxation of security protections when it comes to military voting. Could politics be at the root of the difference?