By: Christine Morabito – June, 2014
We ask the men and women serving overseas to make the ultimate sacrifice, to protect the rights you and I take for granted. And how do we thank them? – by asking them to waive their right to a secret ballot.
Under MA General Laws: Chapter 54, Section 95: “… Email or facsimile transmissions of a federal write-in absentee ballot shall include a completed form approved by the Federal Voting Assistance Program, or any successor program, declaring that the voter voluntarily waives the right to a secret ballot….”
Allowing overseas citizens the option of electronic voting, assuming they have access to it, was the state’s solution to our September primary being too close to the November election (see May 2014 Massachusetts Military: The REAL Disenfranchised). Nine other states and the District of Columbia, that had similar conflicts, have changed the dates of their primaries. But despite repeated opportunities, politicians on Beacon Hill refuse to do so, seemingly because they oppose extending their campaign season. State Senator Jamie Eldridge, disagrees with those colleagues, and supports moving the primary to late spring or early summer. “As it is now, whoever wins the primary has only 6 weeks before the general election.”
Massachusetts has a history of callousness when it comes to military voting, even to the point of non-compliance with federal law. The Uniformed Overseas Citizen Absentee Voting Act (UOCAVA) was enacted in 1986 to ensure that military members and other overseas citizens have the opportunity to vote in federal elections. In 2008, the Department of Justice threatened to sue the Commonwealth, for failure to provide data reflecting how many overseas voters were able to successfully vote. A settlement was reached with Secretary of State, William Galvin, who bears full responsibility for providing proof of compliance with federal election laws.
Malden’s City Councilor at Large, David D’Arcangelo, who is challenging Galvin for the seat in November, said this: “The Secretary of State’s office has been under the same leadership for 20 years and as a result the policies and procedures have not kept up with the times. When I am elected Secretary I will ensure that each and every vote from our brave service men and women is counted with the integrity of our voters here at home.”
A more recent federal law, passed in 2008, was the Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment Act (MOVE), which amended UOCAVA and required states to mail overseas absentee ballots at least 45 days before a federal election. It was that law that prompted the aforementioned states to change their primaries to accommodate overseas voters. Not Massachusetts. Instead, the Commonwealth offered electronic voting, gave them an extra 10 days to vote, and then called it a day.
Some would argue that these voters voluntarily forfeit their rights. However, in Massachusetts, they rarely have a choice, as there is often insufficient time to mail the absentee ballots, especially to some of the remote places our military and other overseas citizens are located.
Rep. Diana DiZoglio takes this issue seriously. “Our men and women in uniform put their lives on the line every day to defend our nation’s freedoms.” She said, “I look forward to sitting down with constituents in coming days and weeks to discuss ways in which we may legislatively ensure members of our military have their votes counted in the Commonwealth.”
The waiving of secret ballots also has the potential to result in voter intimidation. The ACLU weighed in during an interview with Voting Rights Project Director, Laughlin McDonald: “Even if voluntary, the problems of manipulation and retaliation would still be present. Those of us who are not in the military cast a secret ballot as matter of course. It seems very unfair, and it raises questions about equal protection, to subject those in the military to the possibility of manipulation and retaliation. That is hardly an appropriate way to treat those who are on the frontlines protecting America and American democracy.”
Aside from the secret ballot issues, electronic voting is quite controversial, and has been warned against by security experts for years. Sen. Eldridge, shares that concern. “In this era of modern technology, we ought to be able to encrypt the data to ensure voter privacy. Security in our voting process is important for all our citizens.” However, experts believe that may never be possible. MIT Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, Ronald L. Rivest, opines: “Secure internet voting is a bit like the phrase ‘safe cigarettes.’”
In 2010 the District of Columbia conducted a now legendary experiment with electronic voting by putting it to a hack test. Within hours, students from the University of Michigan were able to override every single ballot and even take control of the security cameras. But even more terrifying was the discovery of computers from Iran and China trying to get in on the action.
Let us not forget that fiendish “hacktivist” group called Anonymous that has threatened to disrupt U.S. elections. According to Miles O’Brien, PBS Newshour Science Correspondent: “If hackers can routinely breach heavily fortified servers at places like Google, Lockheed Martin, Visa, and Sony, which employ legions of computer security experts, what hope would a local election commissioner have of doing any better?”
When voting absentee, it seems the best way to ensure a secret ballot is to mail one. But soldiers, facing tight deadlines may be faced with a difficult decision: waive their right to a secret ballot or don’t vote at all.
At the same time we are learning about the scandals plaguing the Veterans Administration we are faced with the fact that “honoring those who serve” is not a sentiment shared by all.