Rep. West Criticizes DOD for Not Opening Offices Required to Help Troops Vote

By Melanie Arter | September 18, 2012 | 10:28 AM EDT

Rep. Allen West (R-Fla.), a former lieutenant colonel (AP photo)

( Rep. Allen West (R-Fla.) on Thursday chided Pamela Mitchell, acting director of the Federal Voting Assistance Program, for not completing the goal of the MOVE Act of 2009 – to open a voter assistance office on every military installation, except in a war zone.

Mitchell testified alongside Ambassador Kenneth Moorefield, the Defense Department’s deputy inspector general for plans and operations, before the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Military Personnel, which examined the Federal Voting Assistance Program.

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West framed his question in a metaphor, asking, “If a commander says to a unit and the … first sergeant: We want the unit to go down to the motor pool, and we want to do PMCS (Preventative Maintenance Checks and Services) on vehicles, take care of our vehicle today. But instead, if the unit goes off to the barracks and they clean up the barracks, did the unit meet the commander’s mission and intent?”

“No, sir. They did not,” Mitchell responded.

West read the MOVE Act, saying it was “designed to ensure that American men and women serving overseas have every opportunity to vote, requiring military services to open a voter assistance office on every one of its installations, except in a war zone.”

West asked Mitchell if it was a success or failure that the deputy inspector general was only able to make contact with 50 percent of the military’s voter assistance offices.

“I appreciate the things that you’re saying that you did, but a lot of those things are optional within the MOVE Act, the intent, the law, what was directed, the mission was to open up these voter assistance (offices), and based upon the report that we got – the IG (inspector general), 114 of 229 installation voter assistance offices. So is that success or failure?” West asked.

Mitchell did not directly answer the question, saying instead: “Sir, I would suggest it goes back to contact information…”

“But that’s not, that’s not what the law said. The law didn’t say anything about contact information, and that’s why I used that metaphor. A commander says go to the motor pool and PMCS your vehicles, and you go off to the barracks and you clean the barracks, did you meet the commander’s intent? So that’s the whole point here,” West said.

“Did we meet the intent of this act? Then why are we here? If everything’s going fine, then why are we here having this hearing? We have a problem,” he said.

West asked Mitchell whether there was a review of the processes and procedures following the 2010 election.

“Yes, sir. We did,” Mitchell said.

“What did you find from 2010?” West asked.

Mitchell could not recall the details of the post-election survey that was conducted, but she assured West that the results could be provided to the committee.

West said that if there were some type of rehearsal to prepare for the run-up to the 2012 election, “we would not have had all of these incidences of having duplicative or the wrong type of installations listed.”

“So, did we do anything between 2010 and now? I know that you just said that you’re doing things weekly, and that’s great, but is that a reaction to us all of sudden having news reports and hearings, or did we have a plan of action with milestones between 2010 and 6 November 2012 that would have made sure we wouldn’t have to have this hearing?” West asked.

Mitchell said guidance was sent out two years ago to the military services on establishing the Installation Voter Assistance (IVA) offices.

“The services, again, as recently as March of this year reported that they were operational, and as I’ve said a few moments ago, we visited 43 of those, representing about 25 percent, and found that they did exist. And as of yesterday, we have valid contact information for all--- the actual number is 221 for the military services,” Mitchell added.

“So, are we on the right track to get the intent of this law implemented before we have the 6th of November? Are we moving in the right direction? Do we have the type of milestones so that the military members, which I have friends and family members, they’re starting to feel a little disenfranchised. That’s the truth about what they’re saying to me,” West said.

Mitchell said the many resources are available to the military, and “the IVA office is one.”

“It may be an important one in some places, and as to the issue of which installations they’re on – that was up to service discretion, and the reason for that is, they are in the best position to understand their population, what the demographics look like in any particular area, and also what their operational environment is,” she said.

“So, an analogy I would give you is – ID card offices, dental clinics, medical clinics – those are not on every single installation worldwide. But they are in places where they can be accessed by service members,” Mitchell added.

“But this law gave responsibility to your office to be able to make sure that that stuff happened though,” West concluded.

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