Thursday, August 13, 2015

The Soldier Vote: War, Politics, and the Ballot in America

The Soldier Vote tells the story of how American citizens in the armed forces gained the right to vote while away from home. Beginning with the American Revolution, through the Civil War, and World War II, the ability for deployed military personnel to cast a ballot in elections was difficult and often vociferously resisted by politicians of both political parties. Finally, during the Cold War, Congress managed to pass the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act (UOCAVA). 

That Act, along with further improvements in the early twenty-first century, began to make it easier for military personnel and American citizens living abroad to participate in elections at home. Using newly obtained data about the military voter, The Soldier Vote challenges some widely held views about the nature of the military vote and how service personnel vote.

The Soldier Vote fills a key gap in our knowledge of the workings of American democracy. Both historical and contemporary, it examines the changing and imperfect fit between a national army and voting laws that are largely shaped by the states. There is much of value here for anyone wishing to know more about the political rights, views, and participation of the men and women in our uniformed services.”    Alexander Keyssar, Stirling Professor of History and Social Policy, Harvard University, and author of The Right to Vote: The Contested History of Democracy in the United States

"This is a thoughtful study of the American military's experience with voting. I learned a great deal from it, and anyone seeking to understand this important dimension of civil-military relations will find this an invaluable reference."   Peter Feaver, Professor of Political Science and Public Policy, Duke University
Author of Armed Servants: Agency, Oversight, and Civil-Military Relations

The Soldier Vote will be available in November 2015 from most booksellers.
ISBN: 978-1137519191

Blackwell (UK)

Bookfinder (Search)

Monday, June 8, 2015

Presidents, Congress, and Armies

The men who wrote the Constitution of the United States were fearful of large standing armies, legislatures that had too much power, and perhaps most of all, a powerful executive who might be able to wage war on his own authority.  All were objects of concern because of the dangers each posed to liberal democracy and a free citizenry.

While it is often impossible to “gauge accurately the intent of the Framers,”  it is nevertheless important to understand the motivations and concerns of the writers with respect to the appropriate relationship between civil and military authority.

The Federalist Papers provide a helpful view of how they understood the relationship between civil authority, as represented by the executive branch and the legislature, and military authority.

Hamilton and Madison thus had two major concerns: (1) the detrimental effect on liberty and democracy of a large standing army and (2) the ability of an unchecked legislature or executive to take the country to war precipitously.

These concerns drove American military policy for the first century and a half of the country’s existence.  Until the 1950s, the maintenance of a large military force by the United States was an exceptional circumstance and was restricted to times of war.  Following every war up to and including World War II, the military was quickly demobilized and reduced to near pre-war levels.

However, following the re-mobilization required by the Korean War, the U.S. decided, for the first time in its history, to maintain a large standing army in peacetime.

American attitudes toward its military force have varied widely. Before the Civil War, with the exception of some Generals, soldiers were generally not seen as major players in American politics. Sailors were never seen as important. The Civil War brought out a surge of support for soldiers getting to vote, but that quickly died out upon the southern surrender at Appomattox. 

Another surge of interest occurred during World War II. As was the case during the Civil War, partisan politics drove that surge. Republicans hoping for soldier support for Lincoln were behind most of the soldier vote legislation in the 1860s. Democrats hoping for soldier support for FDR were behind the legislation during World War II. As with the Civil War, once the war ended, so did support for soldier voting.

It was only with the decision to maintain a large standing army in peacetime during the Cold War did political support for members of the military, and American citizens living overseas being able to vote easily in elections. Progress has been made, but problems remain. 

The Soldier Vote by Donald S. Inbody will be published by Palgrave/Macmillan in November 2015.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Book Review: Concordance Theoryof Civil-Military Relations (Rebecca Schiff)

Rebecca L. Schiff.  (2009) The Military and Domestic Politics: A concordance theory of civil-military relations.  New York: Routledge.
Published in Armed Forces and Society 36(5), 931-933.
 Rebecca Schiff challenges and expands mainstream civil-military relations theory.  She offers the field an alternative method of analysis in determining whether military intervention in civil government is more or less likely.  She also explains why some states have less separation between civil and military worlds yet seem to remain unthreatened by undue military intervention. 
Studies of civil-military relations most often rest on a normative assumption that civilian control of the military is preferable to military control of the state and that a strict separation between the civilian and military worlds must exist. The principal problem examined is empirical: to explain how civilian control over the military is established and maintained.  Not completely happy with the normative assumptions of theoretical discussions, and in particular, the absence of any discussion of how a given society’s culture might impact the discussion, she offered a new explanatory theory - Concordance - as an alternative.
One of the key questions in Civil-Military Relations theory has always been to determine under what conditions the military will intervene in the domestic politics of the nation. Most scholars agree with the theory of objective civilian control of the military (Huntington), which focuses on the separation of civil and military institutions. Such a view concentrates and relies heavily on the U.S. case, from an institutional perspective, and especially during the Cold War period. An alternative, but still mainstream, theory of convergence (Janowitz) focuses on how the civil and military worlds must have more in common with each other, but still insists on the notion of separatism.  The Huntington and Janowitz normative theories of civil-military relations both attempted to describe the circumstances under which the likelihood of civilian control of the military would be maximized.  A principal critique of both is that their theories were developed largely from the American experience in the years following World War II and thus may not be fully applicable to other states with dissimilar experiences.  Schiff, however, provides an explanation, from both institutional and cultural perspectives, that attempts to explain not how civil-military relations ought to be, but rather why certain conditions exist.  Specifically, she proposes several variables might explain why militaries intervened in political activity and why they did not.
Schiff argues that in order to prevent the military from interfering with civilian control of the government, three societal institutions - (1) the military, (2) political elites, and (3) the citizenry - must aim for a cooperative arrangement and some agreement on four primary indicators:

  • Social composition of the officer corps.
  • The political decision-making process.
  • The method of recruiting military personnel.
  • The style of the military.
If agreement occurs among the three partners with respect to the four indicators, domestic military intervention is less likely to occur. The more disagreement that exists, the more likely that interference, up to and including a military coup, will occur.  While concordance theory does not preclude a separation between the civilian and military worlds, it does not require such a state to exist. Schiff applied concordance theory to six international historical cases studies: U.S., post-Second World War period; American Post-Revolutionary Period (1790-1800); Israel (1980-90); Argentina (1945-55); India post-Independence and 1980s; Pakistan (1958-69).
              While Schiff’s ideas are controversial and have raised some objections, she moves the field forward with an explanatory theory enabling a better structure for examining non-Western cases and enabling the introduction of cultural variables into the argument.  This book belongs on the bookshelf of anyone interested in the study of civil-military relations and will find its way into mainstream theory.
Contact information:
 Dr. Donald S. Inbody
601 University Drive
San Marcos, TX 78666
Texas State University


Wednesday, March 25, 2015

The UOCAVA Voter - De Facto Disenfranchisement

The UOCAVA Voter - De Facto Disenfranchisement

Over a quarter of a million American citizens who lived overseas or were members of the American military attempted to vote in the 2012 General Election but were unable to be counted. The reasons for their failure are many, but antiquated absent voting procedures and arbitrary rules and deadlines are largely to blame. Increased use of modern technology, including the internet, will help.

Interest in making sure that Americans living abroad and service personnel located away from their homes can vote is at an all-time high. It is the rare public official who will make statements that might be perceived as advocating the disenfranchisement of someone in the armed services. Public opinion surveys show that the American population want their military to be able to vote, especially if overseas in a combat zone. The Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act (UOCAVA) of 1986 and the Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment (MOVE) Act of 2009 brought about some level of standardization among the states but, even with such support, and despite considerable progress over the past half century, it is apparent that de facto disenfranchisement remains a problem. Work still needs to be done.

In 2013, President Obama established a Presidential Commission on Election Administration (PCEA). Part of the mission for that group was to "improve the experience of voters facing . . . obstacles in casting their ballots, such as members of the military [and] overseas voters." Among other things, the commissioners were directed to explore "voting accessibility for uniformed and overseas voters," particularly absent voting laws that might impact that population's ability to cast a ballot.

A number of individuals and organizations testified before the PCEA on many matters of importance to the UOCAVA voter. The main issues revolved around (1) how to register to vote while overseas or away from home, (2) how to get an unmarked ballot, and (3) how to return the marked ballot in time for it to be counted. While improvements are still necessary in the first two, the principal problem requiring serious work today is how to return the marked ballot to the local election official in time to be counted.

Of the 285,309 UOCAVA voters who wanted to vote but could not, many never got their ballot in the first place. Military personnel move a lot and often mail cannot follow them to their new station. Local election officials report as many as one-third of mailed UOCAVA ballots are returned as undeliverable.

Of those ballots actually marked by the voter and returned, the principal reason for rejection was that the ballot arrived too late. States have varying deadlines for accepting absentee ballots. While some permit the ballots to arrive as much as ten days after an election, others require the ballot to be in the day before or the day of the election. Such variance causes confusion among UOCAVA voters. Also, some counties are more successful than others in minimizing the number of UOCAVA ballots rejected. The common factor seems to be the number of personnel and the time allocated to resolving apparently disqualifying defects. Budgets matter.

The next most common reason for a ballot not being counted was a signature problem; no signature, wrong signature, or unreadable signature. With all military personnel having Common Access Cards (CAC), technology is needed to permit those voters to identify themselves electronically without need of a "wet" signature.

A smaller, but not insignificant, number of ballots were rejected due to no postmark. Given that some military mail may not have a postmark, local election officials need the authority to use other postal tracking data that is often attached to the mail to minimize rejection for this reason.

The Federal Post Card Application (FPCA) and the Federal Write-in Absentee Ballot (FWAB) are also sources of confusion among the UOCAVA voter. About one-third of all FWABs are rejected by local election officials, usually due to not having an FPCA on file – in other words, the voter failed to register. The PCEA recommends that all states accept the FWAB as a valid registration as well as a voting document. Education of the UOCAVA voter is clearly necessary.

The PCEA also recommended that states institute specialized websites to provide for online registration and access to the unmarked ballot. Some states are experimenting with electronic return of marked ballots – fax, email, or web delivery. 

While no credible evidence exists to substantiate charges that any groups are taking active steps to disenfranchise the military and overseas voter, it remains a fact that the UOCAVA voter has a more difficult time voting than do citizens living at home. More work is required on the part of legislators in clearing the way for an easier path to participation in all elections. We can’t permit a quarter of a million UOCAVA voters’ votes to go uncounted in our next election.

For more details, see Donald S. Inbody. 2015. "Voting by Overseas Citizens and Military Personnel," Election Law Journal 14 (1), 54-59. Visit the Election Law Journal online for this article and others about the Presidential Commission on Election Administration. Contact the author at

Monday, March 23, 2015

Texas, the Supreme Court, and the Confederacy

Supreme Court to Decide if Texas Required to Issue Confederate Tags 

Let's see what the real issue was behind the Confederacy. There are those who state that the issue behind the secession movement was not slavery but one of "states rights." Well, they are right. However, the specific state right of which they were talking was slavery. Pure and simple, slavery. The slave holding states did not like the non-slave holding states telling them that what they were doing was wrong.

If you have any question about that, read the following document. This is the statement issued by Texas on February 2, 1861, explaining why secession was apparently so necessary. As you can see, nearly all the document complains about the north wanting to stop slavery. And, the document clearly states the authors' belief that slavery was prescribed by Divine Law.

"In all the non-slave-holding States, in violation of that good faith and comity which should exist between entirely distinct nations, the people have formed themselves into a great sectional party, now strong enough in numbers to control the affairs of each of those States, based upon the unnatural feeling of hostility to these Southern States and their beneficent and patriarchal system of African slavery, proclaiming the debasing doctrine of the equality of all men, irrespective of race or color--a doctrine at war with nature, in opposition to the experience of mankind, and in violation of the plainest revelations of the Divine Law. They demand the abolition of negro slavery throughout the confederacy, the recognition of political equality between the white and the negro races, and avow their determination to press on their crusade against us, so long as a negro slave remains in these States." (See Link)

Let's stop pretending about this. The South wanted to hold slaves. They did not like the North telling them they could not. They did not like that Abraham Lincoln had been elected president. They did not like that they were becoming a minority in Congress.

If all this sounds familiar, it is because we hear the same thing today from the same people. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Air Power and Fighting the Islamic State

President Obama announced that the United States will begin stepping up the air campaign against the Islamic State. Depending on who one talks to, the new policy has been variously described as a "very significant counter-terrorism operation" or as a state of war. Regardless of what it might be called, significant air power will be used to attack the group. Apparently, France has agreed to participate, but Turkey has refused the use of bases to support these attacks.

The question is, will air power alone do any serious damage to the forces of the Islamic State? The short answer is no. Air power can hurt them. Air power can slow them down. The use of air power will cause them to change their tactics and procedures, but it won't stop them from their goals. In the words of retired General Michael Haydn, air strikes are like casual sex. It feels good, but no lasting effects are to be expected. While that comment may seem to trivialize a brutal action like bombing people from the air, he is right. Bombing will provide momentary satisfaction that we are doing something, but don't confuse that with real results.  At some point a sizable ground force will be needed. Where that ground force comes from is the real question.

There is little doubt that the group variously known as the Islamic State, ISIS, or ISIL, is a menace. It is a menace to those in Syria and Iraq. It is a menace to the entire region from Turkey through Syria an Iraq, to Jordan, and the Levant. Any organization that thinks it is acceptable to routinely kill all males in a captured village and to then systematically rape and kill the women and behead children is clearly a group that has departed from humanity. Confusing its actions with the demands of an Islamic God marks the Islamic State as another Nazi Germany that must be confronted and destroyed.

What is most concerning is the apparent lack of concern by the local states, other than perhaps the Assad government in Syria. The countries with the capability of confronting them, Turkey, Jordan, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia have shown no sign of doing anything about them.

The Kurdish Peshmerga and the Sunni tribes in eastern Iraq may be ready to fight, but the government of Iraq remains uncertain as to what it can and should do. Saudi Arabia has an interest in destroying the Islamic State, but has taken no action, at least not publicly. ISIL has made statements to the effect that it desires the removal of the Saud family and to take over control of the holy sites in Mecca and Medina.

Thinking of the Islamic State as a foreign entity similar to any other country may offer some insight into how to attack it. While the United States and other states will be reticent to give the Islamic State the stature of a "state," to deny that it already has many of the qualities of a state can be helpful. The group claims territoriality, however contested. It claims a populace, however it may abuse them. It has an identifiable leadership and government with a foreign policy that controls a military force.

Therefore, attacking ISIL is unlike attacking an amorphous "terrorist" organization that can blend into the indigenous population. While what we have learned about countering insurgencies will be useful, also thinking about how to attack a country with defined boundaries and infrastructure will guide us well.

Still, we must avoid convincing ourselves that we can somehow successfully fight the Islamic State with air power alone. Our love affair with video games have led some to believe that warfare is little more than "servicing targets." If war was only a matter of destroying targets then it would be won when all targets are destroyed. If we have learned anything after millenia of wars, and especially our experience in the past two centuries, war is clearly more than "servicing targets."

So, what must be done to defeat the Islamic State? As former President Clinton recently said, ISIS can be degraded and defeated, but only if those who it is abusing decide to fight. He is correct. Without that component, air power will only slow them down.

First, redouble efforts to raise a real coalition that can provide serious resources to include military and economic power.  The coalition must include not only NATO allies but local forces. If Jordan and Saudi Arabia refuse to get involved, it will be tough slog. If Iraq can't get its act together, it will be a tough slog. If Turkey refuses to get involved, it will be tough slog. All of those countries have much to lose if the Islamic State succeeds.  That point needs to be made clearly and emphatically.  Such efforts may require bribes, threats, and dirty tricks, but it is necessary.

Second, the United States needs to actually declare war on the Islamic State.  While such a declaration brings with it a danger of offending certain parts of the Islamic World, it will make it clear to other countries that the United States is firmly on a path to destroy them. Getting a declaration of war will require a level of cooperation between the House and Senate, Republicans and Democrats that has been hard to find in recent decades. However, without such cooperation and steely nerve, others, to include the Islamic State will perceive weakness and lack of will.

Third, the President needs to establish a firm national grand strategy that transcends the presence of the Islamic State, Al Qaeda, the Taliban, and other offshoots. Fighting such groups is a necessary piece of a grand strategy, but to confuse that is to confuse tactics with strategy and strategy with grand strategy. What are the guiding principles upon which American strategic direction will be decided. Since the end of the Cold War, the United States has been bouncing in a reactionary mode from one crisis to another with no guiding principles.

Fourth, think the long game. Yes, we have been fighting a "Long War" for nearly a decade and half. One reason it has dragged on so long, however, is that we have been trying to get out of the war and thus never planned for a long operation. Thinking long will better prepare us to make the decisions that will permit us to plan for the end game. What will happen if we corner the Islamic State leadership and army. What will  happen in the even a power vacuum opens such as the one that opened in northern Syria that permitted the Islamic State to rise in the first place.

And fifth, the American people need to get over thinking that we can just ignore the Islamic State and withdraw onto our island continent.

War is nasty business. The Islamic State knows that. It has decided to use brutality and unrestrained force a means to their end. They are quite sure that the United States and its allies are incapable of fighting the long war. They are quite convinced that the United States has no will to fight. They are quite sure that they are on the right side of history and have a god that will support them. They are quite sure that the West stole their Islamic Empire from them and believe they will restore the caliphate. Those beliefs keep their fires burning and encourage young men, and now some young women, to join their cause.

So, sixth, we need to make absolutely sure that anyone thinking they might want to join the Islamic State has no delusions about what is happening. Brutal publicity of exactly what they are doing to people must be brought forth. Every means to showing that such brutality is far beyond anything humans ought to be doing to other humans.

And, seventh, whenever a country gets their hands on one of their citizens who thought it was a good idea to join the Islamic State, that individual will find that their citizenship has been rescinded and they will find themselves immediately in the legal system defending their actions. If Congress wants to do something, they need to provide the necessary legal provisions. We don't need any bills of attainder, but merely statutes that clearly state that citizens who take certain actions in support of entities like the Islamic State will find their citizenship in question.

We must not convince ourselves that merely dropping bombs on terrorists will win the day. We must not think that air power and special forces are somehow all that is necessary. If we are not ready to take the necessary actions we must steel ourselves for another Nazi-like regime with policies of brutality and ethnic cleansing and, ultimately a much larger and more expensive war.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

"Thank You For Your Service"

I hear this a lot. I appreciate it, but it always seems perfunctory. I never doubt that the person who says it means it, but, like Wes Moore, I now that they really don't understand what it was that I did for a living for so long.

Like Wes, I did not join the Navy to go to war. I did not join the Navy to fight or to kill people. I learned how to do all those things, though. I learned it well. I even learned how to lead Sailors and Marines into war and how to give them orders that might get them hurt or killed.

The Navy was hard work. The Navy was fun work. The Navy was rewarding work. The Navy taught me lots of things about people, both good and bad.

"Thank you for your service" is a phrase I began hearing shortly after 9/11. I appreciated the thought. Like Wes's experience, I wanted to talk about my experience. I wanted to share what I learned about the world and what I learned about people. But, they did not want to hear that. They didn't have time. It was like "How are you?" and not really wanting to know. It was perfunctory.

If you want to really thank someone for their service, perhaps you need to know that many of our military men and women carry wounds that will stay with them for life. Missing body parts. Missing memories. Missing friends. Missing relationships.

Those military people don't want your sympathy. They want you to understand them, what they did, and why they did it. It does not matter whether what they were asked to do is something you agree with. They responded their country's call. They responded to your call. They responded to our call. We owe them something for doing that and while a simple "thank your for your service" is perhaps better than nothing, it is insufficient.

This country will be paying for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq (and Somalia, and Syria, and...) for decades to come. We will be paying for the injuries for a long time. With the draw down from the wars interest in supporting the Veterans Administration will decline. Interest in supporting the plethora of charities that support our Wounded Warriors will decline. The interest of our elected officials in such things will decline as the interest of the public declines.

So, do you really want to thank them for their service?

Then, don't forget them. When you see a veteran of the wars - and not just the recent ones, but all of them - sit down and talk to them. If they will let you, ask them what they did. Ask them what they learned. Ask them why they valued their service. Ask them what they think about their comrades in arms.

We who spent time in the military have a conceit. We don't think anyone without such experience can ever really understand us. We don't think that those without military service really know what defending the nation is all about. You can break through that, though, with patient conversation with those one or two veterans of war that you probably know. 

Don't offer sympathy. Offer an ear. And, if you are really serious, listen and don't forget.