Former Marine: DoD Voting System ‘Broken’

Stars and Stripes

September 11, 2008, Washington, DC – A former Marine who was a voting assistance officer told a Senate committee on Tuesday that he recommends troops living overseas look at online voting alternatives rather than use their military-organized programs.

Bryan O’Leary, a former F-18 pilot who works for a Washington law firm, noted that many servicemembers are on the move or based in remote areas. Those troops, O’Leary said, would be better off using an online registration site — — rather than the “broken” system devised by the Department of Defense for its members.

“This is your best recourse if you haven’t gotten a ballot yet,” O’Leary told the Senate Judiciary Committee during a hearing on ways the Justice Department is trying to ensure voting access.

O’Leary, citing statistics from the Defense Manpower Data Center, said that only 22 percent of military members voted in the 2006 election, including only 17 percent of those stationed overseas, compared with 40 percent of eligible voters in the general population.

He also told the committee that more than 48,000 ballots from overseas were rejected after being challenged by various candidates from both major political parties.

The upcoming presidential election between Sens. John McCain and Barack Obama is likely to spark heavy interest from potential overseas voters, O’Leary said. It also could prompt maneuverings by the respective campaigns to disallow ballots they feel might have been cast against their candidates.

“I challenge either presidential candidate to condemn legal challenges to throw out military ballots,” he said. “To challenge ballots sent in from a place [such as] Helmand province in Afghanistan in just shameful.”

Four of the 19 committee members attended part or all of the hearing, which was chaired by Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin, D-Md.

Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., doubted that the hearing would have an impact on military members’ ability to vote in the Nov. 4 election.

“I don’t have great hope that it is going to get solved this time,” Coburn said.

Advocates of online voting such as O’Leary note that military members and others have for years filed their income taxes online as well as done their banking. Secure Internet systems are in place, he said, that would ensure efficient and legitimate voting from overseas.

Skeptics contend that tamper-free online voting is at the mercy of those who built or know the software used for it, making it difficult to provide oversight and verify the legitimacy of those votes.

The military’s overseas voting program, O’Leary said, has proven unworkable because it tasks already overworked unit commanders with marshalling a paper-and-pen, snail-mail program.

The military’s overseas voting program hasn’t improved, O’Leary said, in the years since hanging chads in Florida helped decide the 2000 presidential election.

“The only difference is we have more data that shows how pathetic this program is.”

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