Fox News' latest election “controversy” falls apart

Fox News baselessly suggested that Democrats would attempt to “skew” the fall elections by exempting “battleground” states from a requirement that they ship ballots to overseas military personnel at least 45 days before the election. This manufactured controversy has completely fallen apart: The only “battleground” state (as defined by Fox News) that received an exemption has a Republican official overseeing its elections. Moreover, the waiver process is part of the law and was mentioned during the debate over the legislation, which was co-sponsored by 26 Senate Republicans.

Fox suggests Dems will abuse voting rights law to swing close elections in “battlegrounds”

Fox suggests waivers are a “political move” by Democrats “fretting” over November elections. On the August 27 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends, co-host Steve Doocy said, “There are 10 states out there that are trying to get an exemption from the [Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment] MOVE Act law, and four of them are expected to have hotly contested races in November -- races that could come down to just a few votes.” Introducing a report from correspondent James Rosen, guest co-host Alisyn Camerota then asked, “So are the waiver requests a political move?” Rosen then claimed:

“You know, with some Democratic strategists and pollsters privately fretting about their party losing maybe 40 seats in the House and six or seven in the Senate, the votes of those overseas military personnel -- who register to vote in higher numbers than the general population -- could indeed prove decisive.

Later in his report, Rosen said, ”Among the 10 states [requesting waivers] are some real battlegrounds with races shaping up as photo finishes, including Wisconsin and Colorado, where incumbent Senators Russ Feingold and Michael Bennet, respectively -- both Democrats -- are locked in races that rates as tossups." As he spoke, this graphic aired:

Fox: States with tight races seek waivers as Democrats are “fretting” over elections. On the August 26 edition of Fox News' America Live, host Megyn Kelly introduced a report from Rosen on “whether our troops overseas will get the chance to vote in coming weeks as we lead up to the midterm elections.” Kelly continued: “Ten states now say it might not happen. And four of those states have races so tight that a couple thousand votes could very well swing the election results.” As Kelly spoke, a graphic appeared on-screen identifying Washington, Colorado, Wisconsin, and Maryland as four states where “military voters could decide races”:

Rosen then claimed, “Some of the Democratic strategists and pollsters in this town are privately fretting about their party losing 40 seats in the House, maybe six or seven in the Senate. Therefore, the votes of these overseas military personnel -- who register to vote in higher numbers than the general population does -- could indeed, as you say, prove decisive.”

Fox: The “perception” is that “these voters are gonna vote Republican” and that “states” “want to skew the results.” On the August 25 edition of Fox & Friends, Camerota discussed the states' waiver requests with Fox News legal analyst Peter Johnson Jr. During the segment, Johnson said, “There's a perception -- and it's not true -- in American political history that somehow, voters are going to be Republican -- military voters are going to be Republican. That goes back to the Civil War. Since then, there's been no discernible pattern. ... But there is a perception, based on the historiography, that somehow these voters are gonna vote Republican.” Camerota responded, “So, then it sounds like some people are suggesting that states would withhold their right, or mess it up somehow, because they want to skew the results.”

DOD grants waiver to only one of Fox's “battlegrounds” -- and its top election official is Republican

Associated Press: WI, CO denied; MD dropped request. An August 27 Associated Press article reported that Wisconsin, Hawaii, Alaska, and Colorado “were denied requests on Friday to ignore a new federal law meant to protect the voting rights of deployed troops and other Americans overseas.” It also stated, “Maryland initially asked for a waiver for its Sept. 14 primary, but then determined it could get the ballots to military and overseas voters before the election.”

Sole “battleground” state (as defined by Fox) that received waiver has GOP secretary of state. The AP reported, “The Defense Department granted Delaware, New York, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Washington the waivers.” Sam Reed, Washington's secretary of state, is a Republican.

In a statement to Media Matters, Shane Hamlin, assistant director of elections for Washington state, explained the state's waiver request:

In October 2009, Congress passed new legislation called the Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment Act (the MOVE Act). Congress assumed that, in order to comply with the long-standing recommendation of a 45 day transit period, states must mail the ballots to military and overseas voters 45 days before Election Day. Consequently, Congress mandated in the MOVE Act that states mail ballots to military and overseas voters 45 days before Election Day. This timeframe does not comply with Washington's statutory deadlines for candidate filing, printing ballots, mailing and receiving ballots, or certifying the Primary or General Elections. For example, state law establishes that the Secretary of State's Office will certify the results of the Primary on Tuesday, September 7. The MOVE Act's 45 day deadline is Saturday, September 18, 2010. Eight business days is not enough time to reformat, print and distribute 55,000 - 65,000 ballot packets for military and overseas voters. Keep in mind that each of the 6,600 precincts in the state has a different ballot.

The MOVE Act allows states to apply for a waiver from the 45-day requirement if the state can accommodate the military and overseas voters in other ways. Because Washington does provide the same amount of time for the ballots to be sent and received, but simply provides it on an altered schedule, Washington has applied for a waiver from this very specific requirement. Washington is still providing the benefits that the MOVE Act envisions, and is even exceeding those expectations by providing 51 days of transit time for the General Election.

Waiver process was included in bipartisan MOVE Act

States' ability to request exemptions is provided for in law. The MOVE Act requires states to send absentee ballots to overseas military troops 45 days before an election, but the legislation specifically allows states to apply for a waiver if they can prove an “undue hardship” in enforcing it, as well as outline a “comprehensive plan” by which military and overseas voters will receive ballots in time for them to be counted in the election. The Defense Department must also approve waivers.

Waiver provision noted before vote. The MOVE Act was adopted by voice vote on July 23, 2009. Prior to the vote, Sen. Ben Nelson (D-NE) noted the waiver provision during a Senate floor speech, saying that the bill “ensures that military and overseas voters have time to vote by requiring ballots to be sent out 45 days before the election and allowing blank ballots to be sent electronically. It also provides some flexibility to States that cannot meet the 45-day deadline, as long as they come up with an alternative plan to ensure time to vote.”

26 Senate Republicans co-sponsored MOVE Act. According the Library of Congress' THOMAS website, the legislation had 59 co-sponsors, including 26 Republicans.

Cornyn: MOVE Act “balance[s] responsibilities between elections officials and the Department of Defense.” Discussing an amendment to attach the MOVE Act to the Defense Appropriations bill, Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) said the amendment would “help us restore the franchise, the vote, to our deployed military overseas,” adding, “Our goal has been to balance responsibilities between elections officials and the Department of Defense, and I believe this amendment accomplishes that goal.”

Chambliss lauded passage of MOVE Act, which included waiver process. In a July 24, 2009, press release Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-GA), said, “This is an important bill that addresses many critical quality-of-life issues for our men and women. I'm pleased an amendment to ensure that our military men and women serving overseas are able to participate in the electoral process was included in the final bill.”