Soldier Vote Message



Message to Congress, Washington, D. C., March 31, 1944

Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. X, pp. 386-387.

I AM permitting S. 1285, entitled "An Act to Facilitate Voting, in Time of War, by members of the land and naval forces, members of the Merchant Marine, and others, absent from the place of their residence, and to amend the act of September 16, 1942, and for other purposes," to become law without my signature.

The bill is, in my judgment, wholly inadequate to assure to service men and women as far as is practically feasible the same opportunity which they would have to vote if they were at home.

Because of the confusing provisions of the bill and because of the difficulty of knowing just what will be the practical effect of the bill in operation, it is impossible for me to determine whether in fact more service men and women will be able to vote under the new measure than under existing law.

That determination will largely depend upon the extent to which the States cooperate to make the measure as effective as its provisions permit. In view of this situation, I have resolved the doubt, in favor of the action taken by the Congress, and am permitting the bill to become law without my approval.

In other words, this bill might fairly be called a standing invitation to the several States to make it practicable for their citizens to vote: in this sense the Congress is placing a certain responsibility on each State for action. But it will, of course, be understood by those in the armed services, who want to vote but cannot, that the Congress itself shares the responsibility through the complexities of this bill.

Says Issue Has Been Confused

The issue regarding soldiers' voting has been confused. The issue is not whether soldiers should be allowed to vote a full ballot, including State and local offices, or a short ballot confined to Federal offices. I am, and always have been, anxious to have the Federal Government do everything within its power compatible with military operations to get the full State ballots to the men and women in the service.

I always have been, and I am now, anxious to have the States do everything within their power to get the full State ballots to the men and women in the service.

The real issue is whether after the States have done all that they are willing to do to get the full State ballots to the men and women in the service, and after the Federal Government has done everything within its power to get the full State ballots delivered to the men and women in the service, those who have not received their full State ballots should be given the right to cast a short, uniform Federal ballot which can readily be made available to them. This right, which should be assured to all men and women in the service, is largely nullified by the conditions which the provisions of this bill attach to its exercise.

In my judgment, the right of a soldier to vote the Federal ballot if he does not receive in time his State ballot should not be conditioned, as it is by this bill, upon his having made a prior application for a State ballot, or upon the prior certification by the Governor of the State that the Federal ballot is acceptable under State law. This bill provides a Federal ballot, but, because of these conditions, it does not provide the right to vote.

Doubts Some Will Seek Ballots

The Federal Government will and should do everything it can to get the State ballots to our men and women in the service. But it is not in my judgment true, as some have contended, that the Federal Government can assure the use of State ballots as readily as the use of Federal ballots. No matter what effort the Federal Government makes, inmany cases it will not be possible to insure the delivery in time of State ballots to designated individuals all over the world or their return in time to the respective States.

Some of the service men and women, not knowing where they will be a month hence or whether they will be alive, will not apply for their ballots. Others will not receive their State ballots in time or be able to get their ballots back to their States in time. Remember that a number of States will require a special form of application and that the postal-card application forms supplied by the Federal Government are only treated as an application for an application for a State ballot.

The Federal Government can ensure, and in my judgment it is the duty of the Federal Government to ensure, that every service man and woman who does not get his State ballot in time shall have the right to use a short and uniform Federal ballot.

It is in my judgment within the authority of the Congress to use its war powers to protect the political rights of our service men and women to vote for Federal offices as well as their civil rights with respect to their jobs and their homes. If Congress did not hesitate to protect their property rights by legislation which affected State law, there is no reason why Congress should hesitate to protect their political rights.

In 1942 Congress did exercise the war powers to provide Federal war ballots and they were counted in almost every State. What was constitutional in 1942, certainly is not unconstitutional in 1944.

Makes "Appeal" to the States

In allowing the bill to become law, I wish to appeal to the States, upon whom the Congress has placed the primary responsibility for enabling our service people to vote, to cooperate to make this bill as fully effective as its defective provisions will allow.

The response of the Governors to my questions, and reports made to me by the War Department, indicate that many States have not yet taken action to make the bill as fully effective as it could be and that a considerable number of States do not presently contemplate taking such action.

I wish also to appeal to the Congress to take more adequate action to protect the political rights of our menand women in the service.

It is right and necessary that the States do all in their power to see that the State ballots reach the men and women in the service from their States. In particular, I appeal to them to see that their State laws allow sufficient time between the time that their absentee ballots are available for distribution and the time that they must be returned to be counted.

I also appeal to the States to see that the postal-card application forms for State ballots distributed by the Federal Government to the troops are treated as a sufficient application for their State ballot and not merely as a request for a formal application for a State ballot.

I also appeal to the States to authorize the use of the Federal ballots by all service people from their States who have not received their State ballots before an appropriate date, whether or not they have formally applied for them. No State or Federal red tape should take from our young folk in the service their right to vote.

Asks Changes by Congress

I further appeal to the Congress to amend the present bill, S. 1285, so as to authorize all service men and women who have not received their State ballots by an appropriate date, whether or not they have formally applied for them, to use the Federal ballot without prior express authorization by the States. If the States do not accept the Federal ballot, that will be their responsibility. Under this bill, that responsibility is shared by the Congress.

Our boys on the battlefronts must not be denied an opportunity to vote simply because they are away from home. They are at the front fighting with their lives to defend our rights and our freedoms. We must assure them their rights and freedoms at home so that they will have a fair share in determining the kind of life to which they will return.