One of the groups most affected by the outcome of this year’s presidential election is actually one of the few that has the hardest time voting: Men and women in the military.
Struggles from being away, to not having time, to not having resources can effect a soldier’s ability to vote. However, this isn’t a new or unheard of issue, the history behind soldiers and their ability to vote goes all the way back to the civil war. Even though it’s a shame, it’s a darn interesting one…
Civil War and the right to vote
The civil war was the first time the United States had a large number of soldiers deployed during an election. Politicians of both parties thought the army would vote for the current commander-in-chief, Abraham Lincoln, a Republican. So, most states with Republican governors and legislatures passed laws enabling soldiers from their state to vote, while most Democrat states did not. Those voting soldiers and non-voting ones for that matter, helped Lincoln in Maryland and influenced elections in other states to bring a victory.
That was the first time an election was effected by the mail-in, proxy-voted, soldier’s ballot.
WWII – Fighting for soldiers’ rights
The next time our country had soldiers oversees during an election was WWII – This time, politicians were sure soldiers would vote for Roosevelt, the democratic nominee. This time, democrats pushed for solders’ rights to vote while republicans dragged their feet.
In World War II, for the first time, Congress got involved directly with the soldier vote, passing laws that encouraged states to permit service personnel to request ballots and to vote while stationed overseas. States were asked to change their election laws and most did so. However, Southern states resisted the legislation on states’ rights grounds and managed to water down the law, making it less effective than originally planned.
However, as time moves on, the distance, technology and number of solders deployed gets bigger and bigger, making it more of a challenge to accurately collect everyones ballot.
During WWII, the absentee ballot became standard.
Today’s soldiers and their vote:
Soldiers today differ greatly from the past. First and foremost, there’s a political separation between soldiers and officers. Soldiers tend to have more liberal views than their conservative, officer counterparts. However, when viewed overall, the number of democrats in the United States Military, percentage-wise, is much lower than the national average according to statistics by The Washington Post.
There’s also a constant issue with counting military votes. For several reasons and due to factors out of most people’s control, military votes get lost, rejected or go uncounted a lot. One survey showed that one in every 10 military votes don’t get counted simply because they come from strange places, aren’t registered correctly, or make it to the wrong state.
States are making it easier to register to vote and to obtain a ballot, but problems remain. For example, soldiers from Iowa are essentially unable to participate in their state parties’ processes of selecting presidential candidates through caucuses, which by their nature require the physical presence of participants.
In the 2012 election, 250,000 overseas and military voters who apparently wanted to vote were unable to navigate the system. While overall the military population will vote at a higher rate than the general population, those stationed overseas vote at a significantly lower rate. The voting rate among overseas military personnel for that election was probably less than 20 percent, a sure sign that there’s more work needed to ensure the full enfranchisement of Americans serving their country abroad.
It’s a crying shame. The history might be interesting, sure. The challenges, understandable, sure. But the push to fix these problems needs to be bigger. It’s not just about the votes, it’s about what those votes represent. It’s about those fighting for our right to vote, get to do so themselves.