Samuel F. Wright

Captain, JAGC, USN (Ret.)
Director, Service Members Law Center
(800) 809-9448, ext. 730
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Law Review 1285


August 2012

GOP Rules Require that Military Personnel Have a Reasonable Opportunity to Vote in the 2016 Presidential Nomination Process

By Captain Samuel F. Wright, JAGC, USN (Ret.)

7.0—Military voting rights

The two major political parties adopt rules at their quadrennial national conventions, governing the presidential nomination process four years later.  At its 2012 Convention in Tampa, the Republican Party has adopted a new rule requiring the state party organizations to give active duty military personnel and wounded warriors a reasonable opportunity to vote in the 2016 presidential nomination process. 

New Rule 15(c)(7) provides:  “Any process authorized or implemented by a state Republican Party for selecting delegates and alternate delegates or for binding the presidential preference of such delegates shall use every means practicable to guarantee the right of active duty military personnel and individuals unable to attend meetings due to injuries suffered in military service the opportunity to exercise the right to vote in that process.” (Emphasis supplied.)

Rule 15(c)(7), as adopted in 2008 for the 2012 process, provided as follows:  “Any process authorized or implemented by a state Republican Party for selecting delegates and alternate delegates or for binding the presidential preference of such delegates may use every means practicable, in the sole discretion of the state Republican Party, to encourage active military personnel the opportunity to exercise their right to vote.” (Emphasis supplied.)

As you can see, this new rule is a big improvement.  In 2016, the state party organizations are required, not just encouraged, to adopt procedures that enable military personnel and wounded warriors (severely disabled veterans) to participate.  If a state party’s procedures do not comply with this mandate, the state’s delegates will not be permitted to participate in the 2016 Republican National Convention. 

Time, distance, and military regulations[1] preclude active duty military personnel from participating in caucuses and conventions.  Similarly, the severely disabled veteran will likely find it most difficult if not impossible to participate in person in a caucus or convention.  When a state conducts a primary, general, or special election to nominate or elect candidates for federal office (including President), the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act (UOCAVA) requires the state to provide military personnel, military family members, and overseas Americans the opportunity to participate by absentee ballot.  As amended in 2009, UOCAVA requires the states to mail out absentee ballots 45 days before the primary or election, so that UOCAVA voters will have a reasonable opportunity to cast ballots that really do get counted, no matter where the service of our country has taken them.[2] 

In 2012, most states conducted presidential primaries, but Iowa,[3] Nevada,[4] and several other states conducted caucuses and conventions to select delegates and alternates to the National Convention.  The Iowa “caucus night” system got a lot of publicity, this year and in prior presidential years, because it is the first tangible step in the presidential nomination process, even before the New Hampshire primary a few days later.


The “caucus night” is very important to Iowa.  Because it is first, it brings a lot of attention to one of the nation’s smaller states, and it fills up a lot of motels and restaurants—all those reporters and political operatives need places to sleep and eat. 

Does new Rule 15(c)(7) outlaw the Iowa caucus?  No, but Iowa and the other caucus states will need to adopt procedures that enable active duty military personnel and wounded warriors to participate meaningfully in the process without showing up in person.  I look forward to working with state party organizations in Iowa, Nevada, and elsewhere as they write and enact rules and procedures to make this possible.  I envision a rule enabling the active duty service member or wounded warrior to cast a written ballot that will be considered and acted upon at the caucus or convention, just as if the individual were there in person. 

I do not want to hear any “slippery slope” arguments.  Yes, I realize that the Iowa college student at UCLA and the voter who is suffering from severe influenza on caucus night do not have the opportunity to participate without showing up in person.  My answer is that military service is different.  It is not unreasonable or unconstitutional to make accommodations for those who are away from home and prepared to lay down their lives in defense of our country that are not made for others.[5]

I want to thank all those who played a part in getting this new rule adopted, including Bruce Ash (Chairman of the 2012 Rules Committee of the Republican National Convention), Bob Bennett (Chairman of the Republican Party of Ohio), Chris Brown (Alabama delegate and member of the Rules Committee), Roman Buhler (Military Voting Rights USA), Bob Carey (National Defense Committee Senior Fellow, former Director of the Federal Voting Assistance Program, Navy Reserve Captain, and ROA life member), Soren Dayton (Prism Public Affairs), Jessie Jane Duff (Military Voting Rights USA), and Jim Nicholson (former Chairman of the Republican National Committee, former Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs, and retired Army Reserve Colonel). 

Next week (September 4-6, 2012), the Democratic Party will hold its National Convention in Charlotte, North Carolina.  I urge the Democratic Party to adopt a rule ensuring that military personnel and wounded warriors have the opportunity to participate in the Democratic presidential nomination process in 2016 and beyond.

[1] Please see Law Review 1258 (June 2012)—a lawful general order that applies to all active duty service members forbids them (on penalty of fine, imprisonment, and punitive discharge) to participate in a political convention.  I invite the reader’s attention to  You will find 785 articles about military voting rights, reemployment rights, and other military-legal topics, along with a detailed Subject Index and a search function, to facilitate finding articles about very specific topics.  I initiated this column in 1997, and we add new articles each week.

[2] 42 U.S.C. 1973ff1(a)(8)(A).

[3] Please see Law Review 1156.

[4] Please see Law Review 1213.

[5] Please see Law Review 1277.