On September 14, Major Graden “Grady” E. Loveless passed away.
He may not get the attention of Queen Elizabeth II’s death, but I’ll be at his funeral on Monday, even though Maj. Loveless was a frequent critic of my columns. That’s because we both shared something in common: a desire for our men and women in uniform to get the same ability to vote as civilians.
Ever since I started writing for the LaGrange Daily News, I think I’ve received email critiques from the Grady. Occasionally, we would agree on something. Even in a sharp disagreement, he always kept things professional. Sometimes I’d get a “I don’t know where you’re coming from,” followed by an invitation to the Kiwanis Club Pancake Breakfast, an event not to be missed. He was a big supporter of Toys for Tots, which I now run for annually in Auburn thanks to Grady.
At LaGrange College, I get my students to do research for those who come to us with questions, whether it’s conducting a survey, running a statistical analysis, or any other subject. You’ve probably read a few of them that my undergraduates and I have done.
After the 2008 election, Maj. Loveless emailed me, upset after reading that many members of the military didn’t get the opportunity to vote. “Is this true?” he asked me. Can you look into this?
I admit that military voting wasn’t on my mind. I figured all was going well because I just didn’t hear much about it. Challenge accepted!
Grady was right. We found that members of the military just didn’t get the chance to vote. Only a third of the 1 million ballots sent to the military and overseas voters were cast in 2006. Additional studies showed that many states really needed to upgrade their absentee voting. For those new-found critics of absentee ballots and mail-in voting after the 2020 election, you think about those serving our country, and how important their vote is.
Congress did pass the Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment (MOVE) Act in 2009, which President Obama signed into law. It revised UOCAVA, mandating that absentee ballots get to the military and overseas voters 45 days before the election. But Grady pressed us to keep looking into military voting issues. And yes, we found something.
Sure the states were good about having their primaries 45 days before the election, giving time for those ballots to get to the military. But a number of states held runoff elections less than 45 days after the primary. There was no time for our armed forces to get their votes to pick the nominee. Some states held runoffs just two or three weeks after the primary.
So my students and I wrote several columns, and published them anywhere we could. We got a lot of supportive replies. The Justice Department either read our columns or coincidently sued every state we listed that was in violation of the MOVE Act. We called Secretary of State offices, and they promised us they were sending a blank ballot with the original ballot. It wasn’t a perfect idea (what if your candidate loses in the primary and doesn’t make the runoff?). But a number of states did reform their runoffs, holding primaries early, and runoffs well before the Fall Election to actually follow the MOVE Act and avoid trouble with the Justice Department.
I recently learned that Grady actually enjoyed our email exchanges. He’d also be pleased to know that military voting rates rose to nearly 50% in 2016 and 2020. But if Grady were alive today, he’d remind us that we could do better by our armed forces when it comes to ballots.