October 09, 2003
More on Bill White and military voting

Man, considering that the original article which has spawned however many posts across at least four blogs was, like, eight sentences long, this topic sure is getting a beating. Anyway, here's the latest from Kevin and Rob (here and here).

Let's talk first about partisanship, since Kevin brings it up:

The majority of military personnel who vote absentee vote Republican. But the Democrats, already perceived as weak on foreign policy (and, during the Clinton Presidency, as anti-military), can't really come right out and say they'd like to make it more difficult for those votes to be counted. It's more palatable politically to advocate seemingly reasonable provisions regarding residency.

Of course Bill White was taking a partisan position. He was the chairman of the state Democratic Party at the time, so it was his job to be partisan. If you want to use that as evidence that his nonpartisan campaign for Mayor is a sham, that's fine. I feel the same way about Orlando Sanchez (who's getting more and more partisan himself, I see), whom I know full well if elected will be a Republican Mayor and not just a Mayor.

State party chairs often say egregious things in the name of advancing their side's interests. Susan Weddington supported Rick Perry's decision to let the courts draw Congressional borders in 2001, for example, because she said at the time that the courts would do a fairer job than the Democratic House would. A better question to ask would be whether what White said at that time was a throwaway line in the aftermath of a surprising defeat (i.e., sour grapes) or an actual policy position that he lobbied for? Note that unless the Val Verde election was held in the early spring, the next chance White or any Democrat could have had to push for a bill restricting voter registration in this fashion would have been 1999. Has anyone checked to see if such a bill was actually filed, and if so if Bill White was quoted supporting it? It's fine if you want to hold this against him anyway, I just want to put his sin in perspective. If he did in fact get someone to sponsor a law like this, then you've got my attention.

And of course we can't discuss the partisanship in this issue without noting that Jerry Patterson, the Republican Land Commissioner who brought it up, does not currently reside in Houston, meaning that his primary interest here is nothing but partisanship.

Now, then. On to what Rob says.

I remember this event, it was one of the major events in my life. I was stationed in Virginia at OSIA (now DTRA), lived in Maryland, and had volunteered to take investigational new drugs because I was urged to work on some biological weapons dismantlement projects. I was happy to do it, I thought it was important work and liked the idea of working with something a little dangerous. Being a military interpreter and in cryptology, I sat behind a computer most of the time and wanted to risk my life (a little) in defense of the Constitution of the United States.

I was also proud to be a Texan and serious about voting. I had to jump through some hoops to vote absentee and even though I didn't always plan ahead well enough, I got to vote most of the time. I researched issues, called friends back home for advice, my mother mailed me voting guides.

Rob's been in the military and I haven't, so if he says voting absentee was an extra hassle, I believe him. I don't recall it being a big deal for me when I did it during my college days - my parents mailed me a ballot, and I mailed it in when I was done - but I didn't have a military bureaucracy to deal with. Given that, though I clearly see this differently, I really don't want to make it any harder for folks in uniform to vote. I'd rather leave things as they are and accept some odd results like Val Verde.

That said, I note that Rob chose to vote in Texas, where he came from, rather than in Virginia or Maryland. I presume he did so because he had a connection to Texas and he cared more about Texas elections than those in his temporary home. Which was exactly my point when I said that the default should be where the person came from. And given that the ballots in question in Val Verde were all mail-in ballots, the level of hassle would have been the same wherever these people chose to vote.

In Rob's later post, he quotes from the Federal Voting Assistance Program.


Where is my "legal voting residence?"

For voting purposes, your "legal voting residence" can be the state or territory where you last resided prior to entering military service or the state or territory that you have since claimed as your legal residence. To claim a new legal residence you must have simultaneous physical presence and the intent to return to that location as your primary residence.

Rob then goes on to say "When you join the military, your home of record (permanent address) defaults to where you came from. Later on, you can change that. I did just that a couple of times." Again, this is not only what I've been saying, it sounds exactly like what Bill White was advocating.

Now, I don't know (and couldn't find via a quick search) when these rules were adopted. Maybe they came into play after 1997 as a result of some Clintonian conspiracy to disenfranchise military voters, and maybe they're widely reviled throughout the armed forces. Maybe not. If they were in place nationally in 1997, then either White was advocating that Texas get in step with the rest of the country, or he was speaking from ignorance since this was already in place. Once again, I have to ask: What's the big stinking deal? We're not saying military folks on domestic or overseas assignments can't vote. We're saying they must vote where their permanent address is, and their permanent address should reflect where they last lived or where they plan to live next.

Given that I'm about to take a week-long hiatus, this is undoubtedly the last thing I'll say on this subject, which is surely a relief to anyone who's read this far.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on October 09, 2003 to Election 2003 | TrackBack

FWIW, the "Home of Record" nonsense was in effect when I was in (70-71). From what I remember, what Rob says ("When you join....") was correct then.

Although there was supposed to be some nexus joining you to the HOR, the rules were loosely enforced, if at all. I knew senior NCOs whose HOR was Kileen even though they had never lived in or even been stationed in Texas.

Selection of the HOR was important, especically for NCOs/officers nearing ETS/retirement. This is because this is where the military ships your household items when you leave the service. You are also subject to the income tax laws of your HOR state so picking NY/CA might not be a smart move.

I can't remember - they may have paid a transportation allowance from your current duty station to that locale when you ETSed.

Posted by: Charles M on October 9, 2003 1:38 PM

Actually, Orlando isn't running a nonpartisan campaign -- not even close, and I wouldn't begin to suggest that. Indeed, I think it is why he most likely is going to lose in the runoff. I don't think this city will vote for an (R) candidate unless things truly truly go to hell (and despite my carrying on about Mayor Pothole, we aren't there yet); it is not unlike NYC in that regard (of course, NYC did approach hell there for a while, and they did go for Giuliani).

However, it's worth noting that the nonpartisan businessman image that Bill White has spent millions to construct for himself over the last few months isn't exactly the whole truth. He, too, has ties to partisan politics -- and as you suggest above, those ties have been responsible for him taking certain political actions that majorities do not support (toying with the rights of soldiers to vote is one of those).

Will those partisan ties affect his future political actions? Maybe, maybe not. The question is not an absurd one, though.

Incidentally, I think the Sanchez campaign is making a huge mistake tying Bill White to "liberal Democrats" like Bill Clinton (Orlando mentioned this in the last debate). That may play well among conservative (R)s, but those votes are his anyway. He needs moderates and independents, who don't view Bill Clinton as a liberal Dem. Bill White's ties to partisan politics might be an issue worth exploring, but Bill White's ties to "liberal Bill Clinton" is a clunker.

Maybe the Sanchez folks could write me a $5k check for that advice?! :)

Posted by: kevin whited on October 9, 2003 1:44 PM

Chuck, speaking as a former military guy and my squadron's Voting Assistance Officer, the only thing that sounds vaguely different is the phrase "simultaneous physical presence". I don't recall this being the case for making a state my home of residence. Home state of record determination triggers accounting consequences. Some states have no state income tax and others offer tax credits to members of the military making them more popular when it came to selecting a home state of record. (Texas, Florida, Alaska, Illinois were biggies if I recall.)

But voting was slightly different for obvious reasons. Airman Joe Schmo, originally from say Missouri, could elect Texas as his home of record for tax purposes, but unless he had a physical address, he couldn't vote there simply because he couldn't be placed in a precinct. You can be a Texas voter at large.

That is not to say that Airman Joe Schmo could not list one state as his home of record for pay purposes and vote in another. There was no system in the military that linked those two to ensure consistency. Individual states may have some way to screen that, but it's not likely.

Posted by: Patrick on October 9, 2003 1:47 PM

As is pointed out, the military has its own system for determining residency.

States and localities have their own different sets of rules and regulations governing residency.

These two definitions of residency are completely different and there's nothing to require them to be the same. There's no reason for a local elections official to concern themselves with what you listed as your military home of record. That's a completely irrelevant piece of information. The only information of concern to the elections official is whether or not you qualify for residency based on the State's election laws. Nothing more, nothing less.

There's no reason to try to cross reference these different lists and it would be pointless to do so.

Posted by: Kent Lind on October 10, 2003 1:09 PM