SPEAKERS CONTENTS INSERTS
Page 1 TOP OF DOCH.R. 699, MILITARY VOTING RIGHTS ACT OF 1997
WEDNESDAY, JUNE 4, 1997
House of Representatives,
Committee on Veterans' Affairs,
The committee met, pursuant to call, at 9:35 a.m., in room 334, Cannon House Office Building, Hon. Bob Stump (chairman of the committee) presiding.
Present: Representatives Stump, Everett, Quinn, Moran, Cooksey, Chenoweth, Evans, Mascara, Peterson, Carson, Reyes, Snyder, and Rodriguez.
OPENING STATEMENT OF CHAIRMAN STUMP
The CHAIRMAN. The meeting will please come to order.
Today's hearing is on H.R. 699, the Military Voting Rights Act of 1997. I am pleased to welcome Congressman Henry Bonilla and Congressman Sam Johnson, the authors of the bill.
H.R. 699 was introduced by Mr. Bonilla after the votes of the military personnel cast by absentee ballots in a local Texas election were challenged. However, I want to stress that the issue addressed by H.R. 699 has nationwide ramifications. If this bill is not enacted, military voters who cast absentee ballots across the country in State, local, and Federal elections may very well be challenged as these Texans were.
States can and do impose reasonable residence requirements for voting, but no State should impose restrictions that effectively deny that right to vote to a resident of that State merely because he or she is in the military. The bill would guarantee that absences incurred as a result of service to our Nation do not result in the loss of residency for voting purposes.
Page 2 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Finally, I would like to add that Congressman Crane of Illinois has submitted a letter for the record in support of H.R. 699 and has described his own proposal. His draft bill would establish a simple voice-activated and automated phone service in the Office of the Chief Administrative Officer of the House to help American voters overseas obtain the necessary forms and registration and ballots.
[The letter appears on p. 26.]
The CHAIRMAN. I would like now to recognize the ranking member, if he was here at least.
Is Mr. Evans out there in the hallway, would you see, please?
All right. Well, we will go on for the first panel today.
Gentlemen, you may proceed in any way. Henry, if you want to start off.
STATEMENT OF HON. HENRY BONILLA, A REPRESENTATIVE IN CONGRESS FROM THE STATE OF TEXAS
Mr. BONILLA. I thank you, Mr. Chairman. I appreciate your holding this hearing on this important matter.
My bill is about stopping the greatest case of voter intimidation since before the days we enacted civil rights laws; and, as odd as it may seem, there are people in Del Rio, TX, a couple of attorneys, who have started this fight against our military personnel and their right to vote.
School kids of all ages begin their day reciting the words, ''one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.'' The Pledge of Allegiance is more than a collection of words, it is a definition of America. America is about freedom. America is about justice. America is about liberty. America is a symbol of liberty, and every port of entry, from New York to Honolulu, is a gateway to freedom.
Page 3 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Therefore, it is ironic that one of these gateways, Del Rio, TX, has recently experienced an assault on the most fundamental of liberties, the right to vote. A suit was filed to deny our military personnel the right to vote in State elections.
Del Rio is the home of Laughlin Air Force Base and is one of the most patriotic communities in the Nation. When the Base Closure Commission inspected Laughlin, more than 20,000 Del Rio residents, two-thirds of the town's population, lined the streets to express their support of Laughlin Air Force Base and the Air Force in general.
It was no surprise that this suit was filed by an outside group with a long history of agitation and disregard for justice, Texas Rural Legal Aid. TRLA is a Legal Services Corporation grant recipient and it has attempted to have taxpayers foot the bill on their assault on the Constitution and their assault against the rights of military personnel.
I am glad to report that we stopped their effort in its tracks and have introduced legislation, H.R. 699, the Military Voting Rights Act. This legislation would prevent any future threats to military voting rights by guaranteeing the right of the military to vote in State and local elections. We need this guarantee because the threat is real. If we fail to act, we run the risk of further suits in other States threatening our military's constitutional rights.
The importance of this legislation crosses all party lines. There is bipartisan support for this legislation. We already have over 50 cosponsors, including conservatives like ourselves and liberals like Bobby Rush and Sam Gejdenson. Quite simply, there is no valid reason to oppose this bill.
Eight hundred military voters in Val Verde County were intimidated by questionnaires sent by the plaintiff which represented an enormous invasion of privacy. Colonel Brown will share his personal perspective on this shortly.
Let me share with you the comments of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Shalikashvili. He stated before a hearing at our National Security Subcommittee on Appropriations that, and I quote, ''I find this very objectionable, first of all, and I have been very concerned about this issue. I have discussed this with all of the chiefs, and all of us have written a letter to Attorney General Reno asking for her assistance in this matter. So we are greatly concerned about it.''
Page 4 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Let me also read to you some of the questions so can you draw your own conclusions about whether or not this is voter intimidation.
Question sent to the military personnel voters: What is the complete address of every place where your spouse lived on November 5, 1996? Did he or she usually sleep there at night? List the names and addresses of persons who were living in Val Verde County on November 5, 1996, to whom you and your spouse are related, and indicate the nature of their relationship. Are you currently or in the past have you been a member of the parent-teacher association of the school where your children have attended school? If yes, for each membership, state the name of the school at which your spouse is or has been a member of a parent-teacher organization, the dates of such membership, whether you were ever an officer of the organization, and the name of your children attending such school. Do you or your spouse have any credit cards? If yes, for each card, describe the type and state to whom the card is issued, the address to which the bill is currently sent, and the address to which the bill was sent in November of 1996.
I cannot picture this in any other way except as being the most incredible case of voter intimidation probably in the last quarter century.
Can you imagine, Mr. Chairman, if these kind of questions were submitted to minority groups in some part of the country? There would be outrage all over America at the kind of personal questions being asked of you before you cast your ballot?
In some cases they were also asking about what you did on your time off, do you have a fishing license? and things like that. Imagine if those were asked of minority potential voters around the country. There were 23 pages of those questions to respond to.
Our military must never again be subjected to such an indignity. Our military must never again be treated like second-class citizens, and cases such as this must never again be allowed to see the light of day.
The Val Verde case is full of ironies. The attack on the military's constitutional rights occurred in one of our Nation's most patriotic towns. The plaintiff has attempted to use the Voting Rights Act to limit the right to vote. Military voters, who are disproportionately minority, are seeing their voting rights threatened in the name of protecting minority voting rights. And, finally, and most tragically, injustice is occurring in the name of justice. Our legislation would put a stop to this double talk.
Page 5 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC In conclusion, Mr. Chairman, my testimony can be summarized in two words: justice and sacrifice. Our military have made tremendous sacrifices to preserve the freedom all Americans enjoy today. The least we can do is assure them of justice, their justice when their constitutional rights are attacked. H.R. 699 lets us meet that commitment.
I appreciate again the opportunity you have given us to testify this morning.
[The prepared statement of Congressman Bonilla appears at p. 27.]
The CHAIRMAN. Thank you. There may be some questions at end of this panel.
STATEMENT OF HON. SAM JOHNSON, A REPRESENTATIVE IN CONGRESS FROM THE STATE OF TEXAS
Mr. JOHNSON. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I appreciate the opportunity to come here too on the Military Voting Rights Act of 1997.
Let me just add to what Mr. Bonilla said, you know, the Texas legislature in this current session that just ended attemptedsome of them attempted to put into law, into Texas law, a provision which would not allow the military to vote in local or county or State elections; okay in Federal elections.
You know, I was in the military a long time, and it seems to me that you are assigned by the military to where you are going to be stationed, and Laughlin happens to be in Del Rio, which is the case we are talking about right now. But those guys were stationed there. They were assigned there. They were defending their Nation there. And to think that they couldn't vote in local or State elections is ludicrous, in my view, and it is time we fixed it. That is why I think this bill is so important.
Page 6 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC President Harry Truman said in 1952, quote, about 250,000 men and women in the Armed Forces are of voting age at the present time. Many of those in uniform are serving overseas or in parts of the country distant from their homes. They are unable to return to their States either to register or to vote. Yet, these men and women who are serving their country, and in many cases risking their lives, deserve, above all others, the right to vote in an election year. At a time when these young people are defending our country and its free institutions, the least we at home can do is make sure that they are able to enjoy the rights they are being asked to fight to preserve, end quote.
I think Truman was right on target. I think it is an inherited right of the military to be able to vote. I think in many cases, as you know, people forget what our military has done to defend this country and the sacrifices that they have gone through.
You know, having been in the military, I can tell you the importance of continuing the right of military personnel to vote in Federal, State, and local elections wherever they may be assigned. During my 29 years in the Air Force, I often found myself thousands of miles away from my hometown of Plano, TX, but regardless of whether I was in Asia, Europe, or another far off place, I was still a citizen of the United States of America, and the State of Texas, and whatever locale I happened to be living in, and I shared the same interests and concerns as my fellow Texans.
Throughout my years in the military, I saw countless acts of sacrifice by members of our Armed Forces to protect and ensure the rights of others less fortunate than us, and I can't imagine coming to a time in our history when someone would take action to deny the right of our servicemen and servicewomen to vote.
You have heard the detail of Val Verde and that instance down there, and I think the other atrocity that occurred, in my viewand, Mr. Evans, I understand that you were part of LSC, but LSC got involved in trying to stop our veterans from voting. And I am sure it was somebody down below in the system that did it without thinking, because when we got into it, they stopped. But Federal taxpayer money was used to stop American servicemen from voting, and this bill, which I cosponsored with Mr. Bonilla, is set to fix that problem forever. I hope you can get it out of here.
Page 7 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Thank you very much for letting me testify in front of your committee.
The CHAIRMAN. Thank you, Sam. And thank you, both of you, for bringing this to our attention and standing up for our men and women in uniform.
I would like to introduce one of Henry's constituents, Colonel Bruce Brown of Hickam Air Force Base in Hawaii.
STATEMENT OF COL. BRUCE A. BROWN, U.S. AIR FORCE, HICKAM AIR FORCE BASE, HAWAII
Colonel BROWN. Mr. Chairman, members of the House Veterans' Affairs Committee, thank you for this opportunity to express my personal opinion on what I truly believe is an affront to my rights as an American citizen, and that is the basic right to vote in my home of record.
I am a career Air Force officer and pilot who has had the opportunity and good fortune to serve our country for more than 23 years, and I now come before you today to speak to you as an American citizen who is a member of your Armed Forces.
In the fall of 1996, I did what I considered my civic duty and voted in the November election. I have done this on a regular basis since I entered the Air Force in 1973, for several reasons. First, I consider it imperative that all citizens exercise their right to vote, a civic duty; second, to express my opinion at the ballot box on the performance of our Government; and lastly, out of reverence for those who have gone before us and made the ultimate sacrifice to give us this right.
In January, I received a court-ordered document, a questionnaire, which I found to be even more intrusive than a security clearance investigation, a 24-page document which orderedthat includes the commentswhich ordered me to reveal my credit cards, bank accounts, even where my wife was sleeping on certain nights.
Page 8 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC I resisted filling out this document, but on advice of my attorney, I spent the hours it took to complete this document. The whole purpose of the document was to challenge my residency of Val Verde County, Texas, question my citizenship and the right to vote on all issues as other Americans do. I could not remain silent. For the first time in my career, I wrote my Congressman, Congressman Bonilla of Texas. It is on his invitation that I appear before you today.
Since I entered the Air Force in 1973, I have been permanently stationed at nine different installations, California, Louisiana, Texas, Michigan, Nebraska, North Dakota, Washington, DC, Belgium, and now Hawaii, where I command the 15th Air Base Wing at Hickam Air Force Base. This summer will be the first time in my 23-year career to be assigned to the same area twice, my tenth assignment, to the Pentagon in August. And although raised in Georgia, I have returned to Georgia for no more than a week at a time to visit my family in any year, and many times not returning for several years.
After moving to Texas, I made the decision that this was a place I could live and grow upon retirement. I love Texas, and while not a native son, I have always been proud to claim Texas as my home of record. I don't own land in Del Rio, TX, but I have a Texas will. I have not visited Texas but a few times in the last 20 years, but I still bank there. I don't own a home or have relatives in Val Verde County, but I vote there. I don't drive a car in Texas, but my car insurance is still from there. Even my driver's license is from there.
Those ownership, family, or visitation questions asked on the questionnaire should not negate the fact that I am still a legal resident of Texas and Val Verde County and I am entitled to the same rights and privileges of those citizens who haven't felt a call to serve their country in uniform, who don't know what it is like to pack up all their belongings and move every 2 or 3 years, who don't know what it is like to be separated from the family for extended periods of time, who don't know the hardships families must bear to support members of our Armed Forces.
Page 9 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. Chairman, members of the committee, I come today as an American citizen and military officer. First, I am worried that to limit the vote of members of the Armed Forces is to place them in a category of second class citizens. Second, if we allow members of the Armed Forces to be denied that right to vote, who is next? If my vote isn't allowed to count in all elections, then my right to vote no longer exists.
Thank you for this opportunity to speak to you as an American and concerned Texas citizen.
[The prepared statement of Colonel Brown appears at p. 29.]
The CHAIRMAN. Thank you, Colonel.
I would like to recognize the ranking member of the committee for any statements he may make or for questions.
Mr. EVANS. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
I would introduce my opening statement for the record, with unanimous consent.
The CHAIRMAN. Without objection. Thank you.
[The prepared statement of Congressman Evans appears at p. 24.]
The CHAIRMAN. Henry, let me ask you, under H.R. 699, would the spouses and dependents be afforded the same right to cast an absentee ballot as the men or women in uniform?
Mr. BONILLA. Yes, sir, Mr. Chairman, if they declared their residence in that area as well.
The CHAIRMAN. Sam, did you think while you were in the service that someone in your State would try to deny you the right to vote?
Page 10 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. BONILLA. I was not in the service, but my hometown was 150 miles from Laughlin Air Force base, and we consider ourselves ''Military City, U.S.A.'' in San Antonio. The culture is intertwined, and has been for generations, with the military. My father was in the military, my father-in-law and many of our neighbors were as well, and we were a very, very close knit group. We watched our people go off over the years and serve our country in all parts of the world. And those of us who support the facility just feel very strongly. The least we can do, Mr. Chairman, is guarantee their opportunity to vote like every other American at their declared place of residence.
Mr. JOHNSON. I know who you addressed that question to. That is fine. He answered it very well. I did have a lot of trouble getting an absentee ballot one election year, but other than that, I was never denied the right to vote. I was living in Dallas the whole time I was in the service.
The CHAIRMAN. Thank you, sir. Let me turn to Mr. Mascara.
Do you have any questions, Frank?
OPENING STATEMENT OF HON. FRANK MASCARA
Mr. MASCARA. Mr. Chairman, thank you. I have a statement that I would like to enter into the record.
The CHAIRMAN. Without objection.
[The prepared statement of Congressman Mascara appears at p. 25.]
Mr. MASCARA. But as a former county commissioner, gentlemen, I had the responsibility to oversee elections in my county in Pennsylvania, Washington County. And it is reprehensible, unconscionable, to think that someone would ask those questions before they would be given an opportunity to vote.
Page 11 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC In most cases when our board, when its three-members denied a vote for some reason, we thought it should be denied, and it was appealed to the courts, in almost every instance, the courts upheld that person's right to vote, not to disenfranchise them. And it shocks my conscience to hear what is going on in Texas.
So I fully support your bill, gentlemen, and hope that it will be speedily passed.
Thank you. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
The CHAIRMAN. Thank you, Frank.
Dr. Snyder, questions?
OPENING STATEMENT OF HON. VIC SNYDER
Mr. SNYDER. Just some specific questions if I might, Mr. Chairman.
And maybe I need to address these to the CRS staff attorney, but help me in the language of the bill. Where in the language of the bill does it cover dependents? When it talks about a person in compliance with military and naval orders, are we saying that includes 18-year-old children, even though the 18-year-old may not have gotten the order but if he is following mommy and daddy? Or should I wait until we have our staff attorney?
Mr. BONILLA. The gentleman brings up a good point. If it is not clear in the bill, the intent of the bill is to have residents who are also moving with the military personnel and stationed in different parts of the country included as well. It would be silly to not include them, and perhaps we need to clarify that in the bill to make sure it does include dependents, because that is the intent of my bill.
Page 12 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. SNYDER. It may be that somewhere in the Soldiers and Sailors Civil Relief Act of 1940 a person is defined as more than just the person in uniform, but it doesn't say ''and dependents'' here or ''those domiciled with them'' or anything.
So the other question I have is in the section here that says each State shall accept and process otherwise valid voter registration applications if they are received by the appropriate State official not less than 30 days before the election.
Now, I am in a State that does not havewe don'twell, we actually register, we don't register by party. My question is that probably every State has a little bit different guidelines as to when they would accept voter registration, and effectively what we are going to do by this is set up kind of a dual class of voter registration.
Frank might want to help me on this. I don't know what it is in Arkansas, if there is some Federal guideline that says 30 days. What if we have a State that is 45 days and then effectively we are saying if you are in uniform, you have an extra 2 weeks? Again, I guess I will address it to the attorneys.
Was this 30 days put in there for some specific reason with regard to military people? Are we intending to set up a dual standard?
Mr. BONILLA. The State of Texas is like your State in that we don't register by party, but we do register to vote. We attempted to put in a time line that we felt was reasonable that every State could accept without, hopefully, any burden on their normal voter registration deadlines.
Mr. SNYDER. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
The CHAIRMAN. That is a good question, and with the concurrence of the sponsors, counsel will try to get together and, before we take final action, try to clarify that point.
Mr. BONILLA. I appreciate that, Mr. Chairman. And the question points out something that needs clarification in detail.
Page 13 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC The CHAIRMAN. Mr. Reyes.
Mr. REYES. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
I don't really have any questions of the panel. I just would like to say that I support H.R. 699. I think this is not a partisan issue, this is an issue of rights, and, being a veteran myself, it is an issue of protection for the rights of the veterans.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
The CHAIRMAN. Thank you. Mrs. Chenoweth.
Mrs. CHENOWETH. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
I would like to direct my question to Congressman Johnson or Congressman Bonilla, whoever is most familiar.
Would H.R. 699 prevent States from subjecting military personnel to this sort of residency questionnaire that Colonel Brown received?
Mr. BONILLA. It does not specifically eliminate the questionnaire. It simply says you have got to allow them to vote. So it would prevent any effort to do otherwise.
Mrs. CHENOWETH. I understand that H.R. 699 would prevent States from denying domicile to military personnel solely on the basis of their absence. Can you elaborate on what constitutes an absence?
Mr. BONILLA. Well, for example, if military personnel are registereddeclare residency in a particular area like in Laughlin Air Force Base in Del Rio and they are sent to Bosnia or some other part of the world, this would prohibit anyone from saying, since you have not been here for a few weeks or a few months, you should not have a right to cast a ballot in a local election. And this would simply supersede any effort like that.
Mr. JOHNSON. Let me, if I might, add on the first part of that question, it was a Federal judge that dictated that questionnaire at the request of the local officials. And it was part of the Voting Rights Act that they got it in a Federal court in the first place. So a Federal judge ruled on this in that manner, and probablyoff the recordhe ought to be impeached.
Page 14 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mrs. CHENOWETH. Yes, andoff the recordthat is a good reason why some of us are in favor of term limits for Federal judges.
But, thank you, Mr. Chairman. That is all the questions I have. I do have a statement that I would like to enter into the record.
The CHAIRMAN. Without objection, certainly.
[The prepared statement of Congresswoman Chenoweth appears at p. 25.]
The CHAIRMAN. Mr. Moran.
Mr. MORAN. I have no questions, Mr. Chairman. I appreciate the opportunity to hear the testimony and appreciate Mr. Johnson and Mr. Bonilla bringing this issue to congressional attention.
The CHAIRMAN. The gentleman from Alabama, Mr. Everett.
Mr. EVERETT. Mr. Chairman, I have no questions. I would like to congratulate the sponsors of this bill, two colleagues of mine, two really proud Americans, and I am proud to be associated with them.
This is a good bill. There are obviously a few things that need to be corrected, and I appreciate them bringing the bill up.
The CHAIRMAN. Gentlemen, thank you very much.
Colonel, thank you for taking the time to be with us today.
The CHAIRMAN. And now I would like to call up the second panel, please. Gentlemen, let me welcome you.
We have Lieutenant General Thad Wolfe, Air Force Association, who is testifying on behalf of the entire Military Coalition.
General WOLFE. Yes, sir, that is correct.
The CHAIRMAN. Your statement will be made a part of the record. If you care to summarize, we appreciate it. You may proceed.
Page 15 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOCSTATEMENTS OF LT. GEN. THAD A. WOLFE, USAF (RET.), CHAIRMAN, AIR FORCE ASSOCIATION VETERANS AND RETIREES COUNCIL, ON BEHALF OF THE MILITARY COALITION; JOHN M. MOLINO, DIRECTOR OF GOVERNMENT AND PUBLIC AFFAIRS, ASSOCIATION OF THE ARMY; LARRY D. RHEA, DEPUTY DIRECTOR OF LEGISLATIVE AFFAIRS, NON COMMISSIONED OFFICERS ASSOCIATION; AND BOB MANHAN, ASSISTANT DIRECTOR, NATIONAL LEGISLATIVE SERVICES, VETERANS OF FOREIGN WARS
STATEMENT OF LT. GEN. THAD A. WOLFE, USAF (RET.)
General WOLFE. Mr. Chairman and distinguished members of the committee, on behalf of the Military Coalition, I would like to express our appreciation to the House Veterans' Affairs Committee for holding this important hearing. This testimony provides the collective views of the 24 military and veterans organizations of the Military Coalition, which represent approximately 5 million members of the 7 uniformed services, officer, enlisted, active and reserve, veterans and retired, plus their families and their survivors.
The Military Coalition, as you may know, does not receive any Federal grants or contracts from the Federal Government. The right of Active Duty military personnel and their dependents to vote in all Federal, State, and local elections needs to be reemphasized. Recent problems have again reminded us that the right to vote must be fought for time and time again. This legislation, once enacted, will correct this inequity.
The mobile military lifestyle discourages military families from changing their legal domicile every time they move on government orders. Most families retain the same legal domicile for a majority of the military members' career. Legal domicile is determined by the individual State and, once granted, confers the right to vote.
Page 16 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC In the Military Coalition's view, the question is: Do State and local governments have the right to impose additional potentially extreme qualifying rules for service members whose official duties require them to serve away from their legal residence for years at a time? We believe the answer is no.
The Military Coalition affirms the unequivocal right of all service members and their families to vote by absentee ballot without being subjected to additional intrusive requirements.
The Coalition believes that H.R. 699, the Military Voting Rights Act of 1997, ensures that those who protect the Nation's freedoms are not denied the right to exercise the very freedoms that they protect.
Thank you very much.
[The prepared statement of General Wolfe appears at p. 31.]
The CHAIRMAN. Thank you, General.
Mr. Molino, Association of the Army.
STATEMENT OF JOHN M. MOLINO
Mr. MOLINO. Mr. Chairman, on behalf of the 110,000 members of the Association of the U.S. Army, thank you for this opportunity to testify in support of H.R. 699, the Military Voting Rights Act.
I have submitted a statement which I ask be made a part of the official record, and for a moment I would like to offer a brief oral summary of that statement.
The CHAIRMAN. Please proceed.
Page 17 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. MOLINO. This is, in fact, a law that should not be necessary, in our opinion. To concentrate on the positive aspects, however, we are grateful to Mr. Bonilla and Mr. Johnson for their submission.
This country has come a long way since the days when voting rights were denied because of the color of one's skin, and this Congress cannot now sanction denial of the right to vote because of the color of one's uniform.
Thank you again, Mr. Chairman, for this opportunity to testify.
[The prepared statement of Mr. Molino appears at p. 34.]
The CHAIRMAN. Thank you, sir. And let me say that all of your statements will be made a part of the record in their entirety.
Mr. Rhea, NCOA, the Non Commissioned Officers Association.
STATEMENT OF LARRY D. RHEA
Mr. RHEA. Mr. Chairman, the NCOA thanks the distinguished chairman for the invitation to testify this morning. And, simply put, Mr. Chairman, the Association wholeheartedly and enthusiastically supports H.R. 699, the Military Voting Rights Act of 1997.
The Association also wants to extend our salutes to Representatives Henry Bonilla and Sam Johnson for introducing this legislation and for their testimony this morning. And we thank you, Mr. Chairman, for scheduling and holding the hearing and for the quick action that you are taking on the measure. In our view, there is nothing complicated or controversial about the measure that would preclude its immediate consideration and passage.
Page 18 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC The Association has also written to the chairmen and ranking members of the House Committee on the Judiciary and House Oversight Committee in support of the bill. We have asked that they, too, move expeditiously and favorably on H.R. 699.
As the committee members know, military members give up many freedoms while serving in the Armed Forces. Restrictions are placed on their political activities, and Armed Forces members understand and abide by those limits. The right to vote is the only form of political speech that a military member can exercise freely and without restriction, and that really, Mr. Chairman, forms NCOA's basis of support for H.R. 699. If that singular form of political free speech by a military member, their right to vote, is threatened, then all forms of political free speech by all Americans is placed in jeopardy.
In our written testimony, NCOA brought to the attention of the committee a situation that we believe is related to H.R. 699, and we believe this legislation represents an opportunity to address that situation.
As we pointed out, some States and localities do not permit registered voters to apply for an absentee ballot more than 30 days prior to the scheduled election. By our estimate, this has the consequence of potentially denying more than 20,000 sailors of the Submarine Service their right to vote. When submerged on patrol for a 90-day deployment, they have no way to apply for, receive, and return an absentee ballot. We therefore ask that appropriate language be inserted in H.R. 699 that would guarantee the right to vote in this extenuating circumstance that is unique among the military services.
In conclusion, Mr. Chairman, NCOA strongly supports H.R. 699, and please be assured that you have our full support to achieve its enactment into law.
[The prepared statement of Mr. Rhea appears at p. 38.]
Page 19 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC The CHAIRMAN. Thank you.
Mr. Manhan, VFW.
STATEMENT OF BOB MANHAN
Mr. MANHAN. Thank you, Mr. Chairman and members of the committee, for inviting the VFW to participate in this important hearing this morning. The VFW's 2 million members strongly support the bill, H.R. 699, titled, the Military Voting Rights Act of 1997.
Like my fellow colleagues, we were unpleasantly surprised that a State or a local jurisdiction would attempt to deny Active Duty military people their constitutional right to vote in a local election simply because they were not at home; that is, they were working elsewhere performing duties regarding our national defense.
Therefore, this morning the VFW considers it both a privilege and a pleasure to be part of the process that will try to enact this proposed bill into Federal legislation to preclude local governments from ever again denying the constitutional right of military personnel to vote in local elections. This summarizes our position.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
[The prepared statement of Mr. Manhan appears at p. 41.]
The CHAIRMAN. Thank you, Mr. Manhan.
We may have a couple of questions we would submit to you for the record if you would answer them, please, and not take time this morning. And let me thank you for taking the time to be here with us this morning.
Page 20 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC
Are there any questions from members of the committee? Dr. Snyder.
Mr. SNYDER. Just a quick question for Larry.
You are thinking there needs to be additional language in here, is that correct, to deal with that situation where they say no absentee applicants can come in for 30 days? So that means that someone who thinks ahead, is sitting over in South Korea and they send it in, it would be rejected if they send it in? Did I hear you say that?
Mr. RHEA. Yes, sir. Certainly as the chairman has indicated, you are going to look at the bill to see if dependents are specifically included. I would ask that the counsel also look at the legislation to make sure that the point we addressed in our testimony is included in that. If additional language is not necessary, that is fine. But we are not convinced that it includes those people.
Mr. SNYDER. I am not sure either.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
The CHAIRMAN. Thank you, Doctor.
Others? Mr. Reyes?
Mr. REYES. No.
The CHAIRMAN. Gentlemen, thank you very much. Thanks for taking the time to be here.
The CHAIRMAN. Our third panel, if Mr. Killian would come up please. Mr. Killian is the constitutional law attorney at Congressional Research Service.
Mr. Killian, we welcome you. Your statement will be printed in the record in its entirety. You may summarize in any way you see fit.
STATEMENT OF JOHN H. KILLIAN, LEGISLATIVE ATTORNEY, AMERICAN LAW DIVISION, CONGRESSIONAL RESEARCH SERVICE
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Mr. KILLIAN. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
As a member of the Congressional Research Service, I am, of course, here not to advocate or to speak to the policy issues surrounding this. I can address the constitutional questions that may be raised by the bill.
There are many constitutional issues that are quite difficult, even after 200 years, to settle. Fortunately, this bill does not raise any of those. The precedents, the history of Congress' dealings with active military personnel and other people in the military, goes back at least to World War I with the enactment of the first Soldiers and Sailors Relief Act. Those laws were based on Congress' power to raise and maintain an army and a navy, which at its core, of course, deals with the actual maintenance of the military forces.
But that power, coupled with the Congress' authority to legislate all necessary and proper laws to carry out the powers vested in it, extends as well, as Congress has acted on and as the courts have upheld, legislation that protects the morale, the rights, the privileges, the immunities, and the well-being of military personnel.
The laws and the Soldiers and Sailors Relief Act had a great impact on State laws. It affectedrestricted the ability of States to tax; it restricted the use of the State courts for creditors to collect debts from people who were absent from the State in the military service.
And Congress has, in fact, dealt with the issue of voting in Federal elections under the same kind of premises, that the right to vote of military personnel where they establish residence or domicile is paramount and should be protected, so that the Congress' war powers and its powers to maintain the military provide more than adequate support for this bill.
In addition, there is a secondary source of authority, which is the power to enforce the 14th amendment, which is given by section 5 of that amendment. The Supreme Court, in a case called Carrington v. Rash, which arose in Texas, struck down a Texas policy of denying the right to vote to any military personnel except in the jurisdiction in which they resided when they enlisted or were drafted into the military.
Page 22 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC The Supreme Court in Carrington held that that statute violated the equal protection rights of persons in the military who had established a valid residence or domicile in the State. The decision did not deny the right of a State to establish reasonable regulations of domicile and residence. It did deny the State the power to treat military personnel differently. And the Congress' power to enforce the 14th amendment equal protection clause under section 5 provides additional support to the military powers and the necessary and proper legislation of Congress.
That concludes my statement, Mr. Chairman. I would be glad to attempt to answer any questions of you or of the committee.
[The prepared statement of Mr. Killian appears at p. 42.]
The CHAIRMAN. Thank you, sir, and thank you for being with us.
Questions? Mr. Rodriguez?
OPENING STATEMENT OF HON. CIRO D. RODRIGUEZ
Mr. RODRIGUEZ. Let me apologize for being late. I was familiar with what transpired in Texas, with the specific situation. I don't know what the dialogue has been here before. But one of my understandings is that if you are in the military, you don't have to be in the roster, that you can actually vote 7 days before an election, and so that if you are an elected official, I cannot get that listI really cannot have access to that. And in Texas you have to be registered 30 days before in order to be able to vote. So they are treated a little bit differently.
I wanted you to comment also on some other situations where you have individualsone individual, for example, who was never stationed in that particular base, was only assigned to be stationed there, yet voted there. A good number of them haven't lived in the area for over 25 years or 20 years. Some that have voted in Bexar County voted there also. And also we had a situation where we had individuals that were in other States for 20, 30 years, and still voted in Texas. And I presume it is because they are trying to get away from the income tax in the other States.
Page 23 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Can you comment on those in termsbecause I know that is what Texas was trying to clarify, you know, those 800 votes that were cast in that particular county.
Mr. KILLIAN. I realize, sir, that the facts in the Texas situation, the Val Verde situation, are much disputed. There was a decision by the Federal district court there. The matter, I understand, went to trial in the State courts in April, and I am not sureI don't think there has been a decision since. So I would hate to get involved in the particular facts of the case.
But the Constitution permitsand this legislation would not alter thateach State to establish its own residency and domicile requirements, the requirements that people do actually reside in a jurisdiction. One in the military could not vote simply because he was stationed there. He perhaps maintains a domicile some place else. But if he does, he or she does establish domicile or residence in the State and satisfies the reasonable State requirements for domicile or residence, then this bill would regulate that in terms of not singling out a military person's absence from the State as a basis for denying domicile or residence for the absentee ballot things.
Now, whether it is going to have a direct impact in the Val Verde situation, or a similar kind of situation, I could not venture to say because, as I said before, the facts are very much in dispute.
Mr. RODRIGUEZ. So in that particular case, if the State decides that you have to be registered 30 days before, like everyone else has to be, and that that has to occur, and you are a resident, and somehow you show that you have some property there or something, or you plan to come back, then it is not impacted, is what you are saying?
Mr. KILLIAN. Well, the bill does make provisions for application for absentee registration and absentee balloting and the like, and to that extent, it would make alterations.
Page 24 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC My point is that it would simply not change the rules of a State with respect to the actual requirements of domicile or residence. It might very well make some changes with respect to the ability to voteto register and to vote by a military person who has established to the State's satisfaction or the locality's satisfaction either he or she is a resident of the jurisdiction.
Mr. RODRIGUEZ. Have you had access to the existingthe legislation that we just passed in Texas?
Mr. KILLIAN. No, I have not.
Mr. RODRIGUEZ. So you haven't seen it?
Mr. KILLIAN. I have not.
The CHAIRMAN. Mr. Rodriguez, you might also direct that question to the next panel.
Mr. SNYDER. Just one question, I think. Your constitutional arguments now on this section in here with regard to voter registration that sets up this 30-day standard, are we creating our own constitutional equal protection argument here? I mean, some States are trying to head to same-day voter registration and some things like that. Am I barking up the wrong tree here?
Mr. KILLIAN. I think in terms of the legislation being remedial, it establishes particular rules that may be necessary by the facts of a person's situation: Absence from the State, absence from the country, and that sort of thing. So that you do have the possibility of an equal protection claim being raised. But in terms of the resolution of that claim, the distinction of treating military personnel more favorably perhaps than civilian residents who are absent, the resolution of that equal protection claim is fairly easily resolved.
Mr. SNYDER. Okay. Thank you.
Page 25 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC The CHAIRMAN. Mr. Reyes, did have you any questions?
Mr. REYES. No questions.
The CHAIRMAN. Ms. Carson, welcome this morning. Would you care to ask a question?
Ms. CARSON. Not yet.
The CHAIRMAN. Mr. Cooksey, I hate to take you on such short notice. Would you care to ask any questions? If not, we will move on to the next panel.
OPENING STATEMENT OF HON. JOHN COOKSEY
Mr. COOKSEY. No questions. I have a position on this issue.
Incidentally, I have a lot of confidence in the information we get from CRS, and you have been helpful to me as a freshman Republican. My daughter is concerned that I am one of the oldest freshman Republicans, but we need a lot of help.
I am a veteran, and I feel very strongly that veterans ought to be able to vote. I was stationed in Texas at two different bases during the Vietnam period. And, you know, we have a tradition in Louisiana of voting irregularities. But I feel very strongly that the veterans should be able to vote, and in this case I think there was a miscarriage of justice by whatever organization. I think we know who it was that did that. It is just not fair to these veterans. Here are people that put on the uniform, they get transferred around, and they voted, and they voted by absentee ballot, but they lost their vote.
Anyway, just for the record, I feel very strongly about this, particularly in that particular area. I was stationed a little bit north of there.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Page 26 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC The CHAIRMAN. Thank you.
Mr. Killian, thank you very much.
Mr. KILLIAN. Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.
The CHAIRMAN. Now our last panel is Phyllis Taylor, director for voting assistance programs of the Defense Department. And I believe Ms. Taylor is accompanied by Paul Koffsky, deputy general counsel, and Brad Wiegmann, assistant deputy counsel.
Your statement will be printed in the record in its entirety.
Let me say before you start, Ms. Taylor, that we are extremely disappointed that DOD withheld their statementor the administration, whoever was responsibleuntil after 9 o'clock this morning. We request those statements early to give our members and staff a chance to look them over, to properly prepare questions. To say the least, I think it is discourteous to this committee not to provide your statement in advance. I am not blaming you personally, but if someone would get the word back, I would appreciate it.
Ms. TAYLOR. Mr. Chairman, I apologize. I was trying to get the latest statistical information to you on voting participation by the military, and that was not available to me until the last minute. I was also in a business conference. And I do apologize.
The CHAIRMAN. Thank you. You may proceed in any way you see fit.
STATEMENT OF PHYLLIS J. TAYLOR, DIRECTOR FOR FEDERAL VOTING ASSISTANCE PROGRAMS, WASHINGTON HEADQUARTERS SERVICES, DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE, ACCOMPANIED BY: PAUL KOFFSKY, ESQ., DEPUTY GENERAL COUNSEL, PERSONNEL AND HEALTH POLICY; AND BRAD WIEGMANN, ESQ., ASSISTANT DEPUTY GENERAL COUNSEL, OFFICE OF LEGAL COUNSEL
Page 27 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Ms. TAYLOR. Thank you.
I have submitted my written statement to the committee this morning, as you stated. And, Mr. Chairman and members of the committee, I am Phyllis Taylor, the director of the Federal Voting Assistance Program, and I appreciate the opportunity to discuss with you this morning the Federal Voting Assistance Program and to briefly comment on the proposed legislation, H.R. 699, the Military Voting Rights Act of 1997.
Voting participation by citizens covered by the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act has increased consistently. In 1996, voting by the military and overseas citizens not affiliated with the Government represented 3 percent of the total votes cast in the general election. Military participation was 64 percent, and citizens overseas not affiliated with the Government was 37 percent, with 87 percent of the military voting absentee.
In 1994, a nonpresidential election year, while participation by the general public was 39 percent, military participation was 42 percent. The Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act includes several recommendations for changes in State laws, and we have worked successfully with the States and territories to streamline and bring uniformity to the electoral process and make it easier for the uniformed service personnel and overseas citizens to participate in the democratic process.
And so prior to specifically addressing H.R. 699, I would like to share with you the progress that my office has made with all the State and local governments to ensure the enfranchisement of military personnel as well as citizens overseas.
Presently, all the States and territories accept the Federal postcard application form simultaneously as a request for registration and ballot from uniformed service citizens to participate in elections in local, State, and Federal offices. Thirty-nine States provide 40 days or more for ballot transit time to ensure that the military voter and overseas citizens are able to meet the State deadlines. Forty-six States and territories allow the submission of one Federal postcard application form in a calendar year for all elections in that calendar year.
Page 28 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Only four States require the voted ballot return deadline from military voters and overseas citizens prior to Election Day, and four States have expanded the use of the Federal write-in absentee ballot beyond the Federal office and the general election.
Twenty-four States allow a State special write-in ballot for the military voter or overseas citizen who, due to remote location or requirements of the military service, are not able to follow regular absentee voting procedures.
Forty-one States and territories allow electronic transmission of election materials as an alternate method if the citizen is unable to vote otherwise. The electronic transmission service is provided by the Federal Voting Assistance Program at no cost to State and local governments, and during the 1996 election year, electronic transmissions of election material were routed to 2,206 local offices in 50 States, the Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, and the District of Columbia. Voters were served in 94 foreign countries as well as throughout the U.S.
All the States except one allowed electronic transmission as an alternative method for military voter citizens serving in Operation Joint Endeavor. These initiatives as well as others are detailed in my formal written testimony that I submitted before you today.
In reference to H.R. 699, the Federal Voting Assistance Program continues to work within the State and local government statutory requirements and consults with the State and local election officials in carrying out the responsibilities of the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act, and in doing so, we are continuing to make progress in streamlining and bringing uniformity to the electoral process. The adoption of H.R. 699 further supports the State and territory statutes providing for a local, State, and Federal office ballot to uniformed services.
And I thank you for giving me the opportunity to discuss the program and to briefly comment on H.R. 699.
Page 29 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC [The prepared statement of Ms. Taylor, with attachment, appears at p. 47.]
The CHAIRMAN. Thank you, Ms. Taylor.
Was anyone else going to make a statement?
Ms. TAYLOR. No, sir.
The CHAIRMAN. Are there questions from the panel?
Ms. CARSON. Mr. Chairman, I have a question about the notarization of the Federal postcard.
Are you saying that the postcard has to be notarized in order to be eligible for participation?
Ms. TAYLOR. In a few States.
Ms. CARSON. These States are listed here?
Ms. TAYLOR. Yes. Most States have streamlined the process over the years since this law has been in existence, and in most States notorization is not a requirement.
Ms. CARSON. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
The CHAIRMAN. Mr. Rodriguez.
Mr. RODRIGUEZ. Let me also just indicate that there is no doubt that I would definitely be very supportive and I support the idea of making sure that people do vote, and especially those that serve our country. I do have a problem with people that use that to get away from paying income taxes in other States and get away fromand especially when they vote in local races, where they have never lived in the community and probably have no intentions of ever living in that community, and then vote for the local sheriff or the local commissioner.
Page 30 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC In the Federal postcard that you have right now, my understanding is that they don't have to show up in any register of that particular county; is that correct?
Ms. TAYLOR. No, that is not correct, sir. The Federal postcard application form has been coordinated with all the 55 major jurisdictions to meet their requirements for registration and a ballot. And once the military voter completes the Federal Post Card Application accurately and submits it to the appropriate locale in the State, that State official or local official determines that it meets their requirements for residency and for registration and a ballot request, and it is processed at that time or not processed, depending on the accuracy of the form.
Mr. RODRIGUEZ. So that a person could vote, for example, in the case that we have where we have people the previous year voting in Bexar County and then in the following year voting in Del Rio and Val Verde County, where that can occur, where one can decide to shift around and vote in another county from the previous year?
Ms. TAYLOR. That I would not comment on. A military voter, as any other citizen, must meet the requirements of a State, and the State at the local level determines if that citizen meets the requirement to vote in that jurisdiction. And that is between the citizen and the locale, just as it would be for yourself if you were voting absentee.
Mr. RODRIGUEZ. How does this legislation change that?
Ms. TAYLOR. I don't interpret it that it does. I think it embraces what the State and local governments already do in providing a full ballot for the military.
Mr. RODRIGUEZ. There are some States that only allow them to vote in Federal races?
Ms. TAYLOR. To my knowledge, all the States allow the military at this point to vote a full ballot.
Page 31 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. RODRIGUEZ. That is your understanding?
Ms. TAYLOR. Yes, that is correct. It is correct.
Mr. RODRIGUEZ. Okay. And if in the process of when they getI know there was, I think, several that had been discharged and were stillis there a way of checking to make sure that that doesn't occur? Are there penalties for someone, for example, that votes in one race and then in another in a different locality? Is there a possibility of checking to make sure that there is not abuse in the system?
Ms. TAYLOR. I cannot address it specifically because election laws are State laws, but there are State laws and Federal laws that prevent fraud of any nature within the electoral process.
Mr. RODRIGUEZ. Within the State, but what if they voted in several States, if they voted in several counties within a State? They could have also
Ms. TAYLOR. There are administrative procedures within each State as well as laws that prevent such occurrence. I have never known of such a situation of this occurring, and I have been with the program for 20 years.
Mr. RODRIGUEZ. Okay. Thank you.
The CHAIRMAN. Are there other questions? If notyes, Dr. Cooksey.
Mr. COOKSEY. Mr. Rodriguez, when I was in the Air Force, I was stationed, I went through Brooks Air Force Base, and then I was up at Bergstrom up the road, and I am not saying that everyone in the military is always perfect, but I trust the integrity of the militarymembers of the military and their voting a lot more than some of the patterns that I know have occurred in your State.
Have you have ever read some of the books about Lyndon Johnson's elections, landslide elections? And if you come to Louisiana, I will show what you goes on, and it is just frightening. And these are not military people. I trust the military a lot more than I do some of the general population voting. And there is some real loss of integrity. There are people that vote five times in New Orleans in one race, which means my vote in Monroe counts nothing.
Page 32 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC I did vote three times the other day for Mother Teresa when the voting machine was out. But that is the tradition in Louisiana. But except for voting three times for Mother Teresa, I have never voted three times, but yet in New Orleans it is a routine case.
Mr. RODRIGUEZ. I represent Brooks Air Force Base and Box 13 in Duval County, and as a result of that, I have some concerns with any possibility of making sure we don't have any kind of fraud or misuse of individuals and making sure that they are the ones that are doing the voting and somebody else is not signing the cards for them.
So other than that, yes, I feel very strongly that we also need to make sure that things areand if there is a possibility of assuring that there are some penalties.
And the only other thing that bothers me is people that have used that for the purposes of maybe not paying their State income taxes elsewhere.
The CHAIRMAN. Thank you.
Ms. Taylor, are you free or are you able to answer whether the administration supports this bill or not?
Ms. TAYLOR. In administering the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act, we have worked continuously with State and local government statutes in supporting a full ballot for the military for many decades.
The CHAIRMAN. Well, if you have any recommendations or specific language that, in your opinion, would strengthen this bill, we would appreciate hearing from you. And if you would care to work with counsel and let us know in the near future before we mark it up, we would appreciate it.
Ms. TAYLOR. I would like to have that opportunity. Thank you.
The CHAIRMAN. Mr. Moran.
Mr. MORAN. Ms. Taylor, is there anything, to your knowledge, in H.R. 699 that would cause difficulties with State and local election officials? Is this compatible with the procedures that they use such that we are not creating any additional burdens?
Page 33 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Ms. TAYLOR. I don't think there is any concern there.
Mr. MORAN. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
The CHAIRMAN. Let me thank all members of all the panels for testifying today, and the committee stands adjourned.
[Whereupon, at 10:38 a.m., the committee was adjourned.]