American soldiers are citizens too

By David H. Hackworth
web posted December 4, 2000

Ronald Scott Owens
Owens, 24, was married with a 4-year old daughter. The USS Cole was his first tour.

Ronald Scott Owens, who hailed from Vero Beach, Fla., recently made the ultimate sacrifice along with 16 shipmates when the USS Cole was attacked in Yemen's Aden harbor.

Now, from what I'm hearing, the ballots of Ronald Scott Owens and almost 700 other Florida military voters may have been deep-sixed for reasons that former President Carter and the Arbiters of Good would already be decrying if we weren't America the Beautiful.

This skulduggery was exemplified in a five-page letter -- a tip sheet, really, on how to zap military absentee voters -- sent by Florida lawyer Mark Herron to like-minded attorneys who've been storming the Sunshine State.

The word is that this injustice took on a life of its own when Democratic Party leaders both in Florida and in Washington did the math and decided the military vote would favor the opposition. Instead of emulating Lincoln's example during our Civil War, Herron and cohorts chose instead to follow Stalin's credo: "It doesn't matter who votes, it only matters who counts the votes." As a result, many of those who risk their lives in dangerous places were flat-out disenfranchised.

Adding insult to injury, according to The Miami Herald, "At least 39 felons -- mostly Democrats -- illegally cast absentee ballots in Broward and Miami-Dade counties."

Felons get to vote, but ballots from GI Joe and Jill are tossed in the reject pile over trivia such as the addresses of signature witnesses. Or because envelopes lacked a stamped postmark, even though federal law says one's not required.

Torpedoing other ballots required more twisted logic. For example, according to The Wall Street Journal, a ballot bearing "a domestic postmark because a soldier had voted, sent his ballot home to his parents and asked them to mail it in on time, is thrown out. A ballot that comes with a note from an officer explaining his ship was not able to postmark his ballot, but that he voted on time -- and indeed it had arrived in time -- is thrown out."

In Florida, signatures of our defenders were compared with signatures on registration cards, and if one said Jim Patriot and the other James Patriot, the ballot was trashed. No one seemed to take into consideration that PFC/Sergeant/Captain Patriot's concentration when he voted might have been diverted to scope for terrorists off Aden or land mines in Kosovo or missiles over the skies of Iraq. Ballots postmarked "Queens, New York" or "Jacksonville, Florida" were denied, although even Disney World's Mickey Mouse probably knows these post offices routinely handle overseas military mail.

I still have letters mailed by me from Italy at the end of World War II and from Korea and Vietnam during those conflicts. Not only are none postmarked, I never did run across a U.S. Post Office out where danger lurked and bullets sang, and I would be happy to testify accordingly.

The same no-post-office rule holds true in the conflicts I've covered as a reporter. Our sailors and soldiers in nasty places like ex-Yugoslavia, Latin America and the Gulf scribbled "FREE" on the envelope as their dads did and stowed their letters in empty ration boxes to find their way from platoon to division and finally on a bird to the USA. It's always been and still is: No stamp, no postmark.

The troops are angry -- they feel they're second-class citizens whose votes go uncounted because they don't count. I average 500 e-mails on normal days; this injustice has quadrupled the input, and the fire from those messages has almost melted my computer.

Sure the courts will make their judgments and hopefully cut our warriors some slack, but this shameful episode will leave its wounds. Healing can only begin when we truly honor and respect those who lay it all out there for you and me. A good start would be to bring a military voting system that's presently as obsolete as the blunderbuss into the age of the laser-guided missile.

Of course, we also must set up a fair national standard for the vote -- one guaranteed to prevent a replay of what's been going down in Florida, a state that's produced more than its share of the heroes who keep our great country on course with their ballots as well as their bullets.

One of most decorated soldiers in American history, Col. David Hackworth (Ret.) is the author of the syndicated column Defending America.Sign in for the free weekly Defending America column at his Web site. Send mail to P.O. Box 5210, Greenwich, CT 06831. © 2000 David H. Hackworth

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