Election 2004: Overseas military voters may be key to presidential race
August 17, 2004
Click here to view or download Stars and Stripes' Election 2004 guide (PDF format, 2.7 MB), with graphics and two pages of "on the street" interviews in which servicemembers talk about the election.Information on the Web ...
The Internet can be a terrific resource for elections information, or a complete waste of time. Or both! Have a look at some of these Elections 2004 sites:
¶ www.votenader.org — And then there’s Ralph Nader. He’s running again.
¶ www.presidentmatch.com — A short quiz on issues matches your positions with who would be your best choice.
¶ www.factcheck.org — A great way to shoot down those Internet rumors and junk e-mails
¶ www.politics1.com — A site with a wide range of election news items.
¶ www.cookpolitical.com — A nonpartisan look at the political landscape in America.
¶ www.youth04.org — A site run by college students, and targeted at potential voters age 18 to 25
¶ www.jibjab.com — Home to the famous “This land is your land” parody with the weirdly jointed Kerry and Bush trading insults.
— Patrick Dickson
WASHINGTON — The two major parties have selected their candidates and staked out positions.
Polls show that the electorate is fairly entrenched, and with our Electoral College system, the election could turn on a few key states.
The voting assistance officers have fanned out to overseas bases and are reporting record numbers of people contacted.
If you do the numbers, folks, you’ll see that the overseas military vote could decide the whole shootin’ match.
“In an extremely close election, the overseas vote will no doubt be critical in many states,” said Jamin Raskin, professor at American University in Washington, D.C., who teaches election law.
Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Missouri and of course Florida are just five states, all with significant numbers of electoral votes, that are polling as dead heats.
“Every indication, every piece of research that I’ve done on this election, tells me it’s too close to call,” said Victoria Farrar-Myers, associate professor in the Department of Political Science at the University of Texas at Arlington.
Another factor, Farrar-Myers says, makes this year’s race tighter than most.
“The military vote has trended Republican, that’s not news to anyone,” she said. “But this year, there’s an interesting twist: [Sen.] John Kerry is the military candidate. He is a veteran, and he’s after the military vote and the veteran vote.
“You [saw] it in the Democratic National Convention — ‘John Kerry, reporting for duty.’ He’s going after the military vote, something the Democrats haven’t really done. He’s putting the military vote very much back into play.
“With George W. Bush, the military support is there, but it’s soft this time around. There’s an enormous strain on the military,” Farrar-Myers said.
“What’s going to happen in this race is anyone’s guess,” he said. “The war veteran is the Democrat, and the president has a sort of murky National Guard history.”
The Bush camp vehemently denies this.
“It’s had to quantify the overseas military vote, but it’s trended Republican and we don’t anticipate that changing at all,” said David Castillo, veterans coalition director at Bush-Cheney campaign headquarters in Arlington, Va.
“We feel that those serving in Iraq and Afghanistan understand that the president supports them, and that John Kerry turned his back on them when he voted against the $87 billion supplemental [funding] package and was not present for the vote on the $25 billion” that passed in June.
If the military vote did go to Kerry, it would be a fairly significant cultural shift, Raskin said.
“It’s safe to say that the military vote has tended to support the incumbent during wartime. It also has leaned Republican for several decades now.
“The pivotal moment was probably the Vietnam War, when the Democrats became the anti-war party. The electorate was reorganized during the ’60s along this cultural fault line, and the GOP began leaning to military strength and nationalism.”
By the numbers
According to a report to the president and Congress from the Federal Voting Assistance Program, it is estimated that about 37 percent of U.S. citizens overseas vote. Overall turnout among the American public in the 2000 presidential election was around 50 percent.
But take heart: About 70 percent of military personnel do.
Americans abroad have not turned out to vote in large numbers, historically. Some see the registration and voting procedures, mailing and waiting, as unnecessarily complicated. And there have long been urban legends that their votes are not counted or just get lost or thrown away.
“Historically, I mean, [the problems of election year] 2000 are not new; there’s been an ongoing problem with disenfranchisement with the overseas vote,” Farrar-Myers said.
Raskin points to the 2000 election.
“The most graphic episode occurred with the Florida vote in 2000, where the overseas vote seems to have pushed Bush over the top. Florida was unique, because the votes came in in stages, so it was easier to track which way they [voted].
“But with the legal resources being deployed by both sides,” Raskin said, “no state is going to throw out piles of ballots.
An angry tone
What bothers many Americans is the nastiness and entrenchment on both sides.
CNN, once derided as the Clinton News Network, is considered liberal beyond hope, and liberals, or “progressives,” as they now call themselves, scream bloody murder at Fox calling itself fair and balanced. Both sides have their attack dogs, and what were once sober analyses of views on the Sunday morning talk shows have turned into fatuous free-for-alls in prime time. You’d think a hockey game is going to break out at any minute.
“We’re at a point in our country where it’s either all about ‘Fahrenheit 9/11’ or it’s all about ultra-Conservatism,” said retired Army Gen. Tommy Franks, in town to promote his book, “American Soldier.”
“My experience in this grand democracy,” Franks said Aug. 9, “has been that life in America is somewhere between those two poles, and so I try to stay away from the hyperbolic in this thing — that ‘Well, Michael Moore had it all right’ or ‘he was a lyin’, cheatin’, no good son of a gun.’
“I mean, there’s fact and there’s fiction involved in that particular piece, just like there’s fact and there’s fiction in the other extreme …
“But we ought to stop the business of sayin’, ‘If you disagree with me, you’re not a patriot. If you disagree with me, you’re not a good American.’” In my view, there’s too much of that.”
And so, my fellow Americans, send in those federal postcard applications as soon as you can, and vote. It might just be you and those in your unit who help decide the winner.