Department of Defense Scrambles to Rectify Ballot Deadline Error

MacIver Report Also Prompts Congressional Action

MacIver News Service | September 28, 2012

[Madison, Wisc..] The Department of Defense is scrambling to undo any damage caused when the Federal Voting Assistance Program provided the wrong absentee ballot deadline to Wisconsin service members.

Also in Washington, DC, House Administration Chairman Dan Lungren, (R-Calif.) took action to ensure that the voting rights of military and overseas voters are protected, including sending a staff attorney to meet with state election officials here.

“It’s alarming to know that an untold number of our men and women in uniform were provided incorrect information,” said Lungren. “This is an unacceptable error that cannot continue. Whether it’s from the battle field or at the ballot box, our men and women in uniform deserve to have their vote counted.”

The actions come after the MacIver News Service discovered the Federal Voting Assistance Program (FVAP) website incorrectly listed Wisconsin’s ballot return date as seven days after the actual deadline, an error that could have disenfranchised thousands of military voters serving overseas.

All ballots from military and overseas voters must be postmarked by Election Day. However, up until Tuesday, FVAP’s website stated the ballots have until November 16th to reach elections officials in Wisconsin. The actual deadline is November 9th, which means service members and overseas voters must mail their ballots well before Election Day for them to be delivered in time.

On Thursday the Department of Defense emailed every Wisconsin service member alerting them that FVAP’s website was wrong.

“Please follow the directions that come with your ballot and allow sufficient time to ensure that your ballot is received in time to be counted,” the email read. “We regret any inconvenience that this may have caused.”

The MacIver News Service identified the questionable deadline provided at FVAP’s website and contacted the Wisconsin Government Accountability Board for comment on Tuesday morning. The GAB then contacted the FVAP, which eventually corrected the error.

Reid Magney, GAB spokesman, thanked MNS for pointing out the error, but believes “there is a very low probability that the error has put any military or overseas ballots ‘at risk.'”

The GAB says last week it sent emails to all military and overseas voters, who had requested a Wisconsin ballot, providing them with correct information about the general election.

The Secretary of Defense Public Affairs Officer, Commander Leslie Hull-Ryde, told MNS “FVAP is double checking all State deadline dates on its website to ensure accuracy.”

On their website, the FVAP boasts it “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.”

Meanwhile at Congressman Lungren’s request, the House Administration Committee sent an attorney to Wisconsin to work with election administrators to ensure the franchise for all of Wisconsin’s military voters. A meeting was held Friday at the Wisconsin Government Accountability Board in Madison.

Meetings have also been scheduled with the FVAP to discuss what they plan to do to remedy the situation. Additionally, Congressman Lungren said he would be sending a letter to state election officials reminding them of upcoming deadlines and offering the assistance of the Committee if they encounter additional problems.

“It is our collective responsibility to ensure that military and overseas voters have adequate opportunities and resources to vote,” said Lungren. “I will continue to work to protect the rights of these voters and ensure they have accurate and timely information.”