A group of Republican senators is seizing on a new inspector general’s report that criticizes the Defense Department’s voter assistance operations, accusing the Pentagon of disregarding the will of Congress and violating the law.
In a letter to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) and five other Republicans wrote that DOD was violating the 2009 Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment Act, which required troops and their families access to voter assistance on military bases.
The Defense Department Inspector General’s office released a report this week in which half of its attempts to contact voter assistance offices on military bases failed, and it found not all of the offices had been set up.
“With great disappointment, we have concluded that the Department of Defense stands in clear violation of a central provision of this federal law, which mandated the creation of on-base voter assistance offices,” the senators wrote. “The price of DoD’s failure to follow the law will likely be paid this November by military service members and their families, whose voting rights were to have been safeguarded by this provision.”
The Pentagon pushed back against the report in a press conference Wednesday, saying that the reason DODIG failed to reach many of the offices was that they had outdated contact information.
“I spent 25 years in the Army, and I voted absentee. And I can tell you that I only wish that when I was in uniform, I had access to the tools and resources that are available to our men and women today,” said Pam Mitchell, acting director of the DOD Federal Voting Assistance Program.
The inspector general’s report concluded that one reason not all of the offices had been established was due to lack of funding, but the Republican senators called that claim “disingenuous.”
“DoD has never asked Congress for this funding,” they wrote. “It is sometimes said that the budget is policy and, here, it appears that DoD’s policy was to disregard the clear will of Congress.”
In addition to Cornyn, the letter was signed by Sens. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.), John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), Richard Burr (R-N.C.), Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) and James Inhofe (R-Okla.).