Thanks to a slew of misinformation coming from Donald J. Trump and Attorney General William BarrBill BarrAttorney indicted on charge of lying to FBI as part of Durham investigation Milley moved to limit Trump military strike abilities after Jan. 6, Woodward book claims: report Former US attorney enters race for governor in Pennsylvania MORE, there’s been too much public debate of the pros and cons of mail-in voting. Trump falsely claims it’s rife with fraud — except perhaps in Florida, where he and Melania vote by mail — and that there are meaningful distinctions between absentee voting and other forms of voting by mail. Not so.
In addition to the five states that have been voting almost exclusively by mail for years, there’s another demographic that rarely gets discussed in the context of elections, but also routinely votes by mail: the United States military.
Under federal law, military service members can vote by mail while living away from their states of residence using a simple Federal Post Card Application for an absentee ballot, or “FPCA.” The post cards go to the states of residence, which are required to send absentee ballots to military voters at least 45 days before an election. If service members do not receive a ballot in time under a particular state’s election deadlines, federal law allows them to use a Federal Write-In Absentee Ballot — or “FWAP”— as a back-up means of voting for federal offices. The official ballot directs users not to write their names or any identifying number on the ballot, but to swear under penalty of perjury that the information contained is accurate, that the voter has not been disqualified from voting and that the voter did not vote twice.
Translation: The federal government already knows how to manage a vote by mail system without requiring detailed identifying proof of eligibility and without running into widespread fraud as a result.
Congress enacted the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act in 1986, enabling military service members and their families to vote by mail and directing federal, state and local election officials “to ensure that each uniformed services voter receives the utmost consideration and cooperation when voting,” that “each ballot cast by such a voter is duly counted,” and that “all eligible American voters, regardless of race, ethnicity, disability, the language they speak, or the resources in the community in which they live, should have an equal opportunity to cast a vote and to have that vote counted.”
If only the current commander in chief and today’s Republican-led Senate shared the sentiments and values that former President Ronald Reagan and the U.S. Congress put into law 34 years ago.
Instead, Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellHouse to act on debt ceiling next week White House warns GOP of serious consequences on debt ceiling Lindsey Graham: Police need 'to take a firm line' with Sept. 18 rally attendees MORE (R-Ky.) has refused to consider the COVID-19 stimulus bill known as the HEROES Act, which passed the House in May and includes desperately needed funding to states to enable them to conduct safe elections in a pandemic. Across the country, the Republican Party is suing states and localities to stop voters from casting mail-in ballots more easily, on the wrongheaded rationale that voting by mail invites election fraud. And Donald TrumpDonald TrumpOvernight Defense & National Security — The Pentagon's deadly mistake Overnight Energy & Environment — Presented by Climate Power — Interior returns BLM HQ to Washington France pulls ambassadors to US, Australia in protest of submarine deal MORE has called the backbone of mail-in voting — the U.S. Postal Service — a “joke.”
Meanwhile, Trump is losing ground to Joe BidenJoe BidenHouse Democrat threatens to vote against party's spending bill if HBCUs don't get more federal aid Overnight Defense & National Security — The Pentagon's deadly mistake Haitians stuck in Texas extend Biden's immigration woes MORE in polls of military service members. In a survey of 1,018 active-duty troops conducted in late July and early August, nearly 50 percent reported having a negative view of the president; 38 percent had a favorable view.
And just days ago, The Atlantic published a blockbuster article reporting that Trump told four people with firsthand knowledge that military cemeteries are “filled with losers,” and that the over 1,800 dead Marines buried at a site near Paris were “suckers” for losing their lives. Although Trump has denied the reporting, he has made no secret of his contempt for the late Senator John McCainJohn Sidney McCain20 years after 9/11, US foreign policy still struggles for balance What the chaos in Afghanistan can remind us about the importance of protecting democracy at home 'The View' plans series of conservative women as temporary McCain replacements MORE, telling a conservative group Iowa in 2015 that when McCain lost the 2008 presidential election to Barack ObamaBarack Hussein Obama Chelsea Manning tests positive for COVID-19 The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by National Industries for the Blind - Tight security for Capitol rally; Biden agenda slows Obama backs Trudeau in Canadian election MORE, “He lost, so I never liked him as much after that, ‘cause I don’t like losers. . . He’s not a war hero. He’s a war hero because he was captured. I like people that weren’t captured.”
Pause for a moment and consider the yawning disconnect between the patriots in the U.S. military and their cynical commander in chief.
In a speech at Langley Air Force Base in 2012, a service member by the name of Chief Master Sergeant Joseph Romero elaborated on his experience taking the oath of enlistment, “I immediately felt a strong sense of patriotism. I felt as if I was invincible. Don’t laugh. I’m not sure why, but I was young, I really felt a sense of belonging to something bigger than myself.”
Clearly, Donald Trump doesn’t understand what U.S. military service is all about. Nor does he get why the right to vote is so solemn. It sustains American democracy itself. In the words of Ronald Reagan, “Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn't pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same, or one day we will spend our sunset years telling our children and our children's children what it was once like in the United States where men were free.”
Kimberly Wehle is a professor at University of Baltimore School of Law and author of the books "How to Read the Constitution — and Why,” and “What You Need to Know About Voting — and Why.” Follow her on Twitter @kimwehle.