Reduced demand for absentee ballots from voters stationed overseas and elsewhere probably will mean record-low turnout among active-duty service members in next month's general election, a military voter-advocacy group says.
A report last month from the Military Voter Protection Project, a Washington, D.C., nonprofit group, said requests for absentee ballots are down steeply from 2008, including by 47 percent in Florida and 70 percent in both Virginia and Ohio, which are expected to be battleground states in the upcoming presidential election
In Beaufort County, 81 service members stationed overseas have requested absentee ballots, down from 217 in 2008, according data from the county's Board of Voter Registration and Elections.
Eighty-one members of the military stationed elsewhere in the U.S. have asked for ballots, compared to 144 in 2008, county records show.
The Military Voter Protection Project's report did not include data from South Carolina, and attempts last week to get numbers from the S.C. Election Commission were unsuccessful.
Eric Eversole, the project's founder and executive director, blamed Pentagon officials for the decline in ballot requests, saying they have not done enough to help troops cast ballots.
"The number of absentee ballots being requested is shockingly low," Eversole said in a statement. "While we knew the number of absentee ballot requests would increase as we got closer to the election -- and they have -- the number being requested is still way too low and indicates that many military members will have their voices silenced on Election Day."
Eversole's group also said the Defense Department had not complied with key provisions of the Military and Overseas Empowerment Act, a law enacted in 2009 to protect the voting rights of service members, their families and other overseas citizens.
"(The Pentagon) simply failed to create ... installation voting-assistance offices by the November 2010 deadline," the report said. "In fact, many of the offices were not created until late 2011. This is a clear violation of the MOVE Act."
While some groups expect low turnout among military voters, turnout on the civilian side is expected to be high.
"We had 76 percent turnout (in 2008), and I would expect turnout this year to be in the same range, somewhere from 70 to 75 percent," Beaufort County elections executive director Scott Marshall said.
Marshall said increased interest in the race between President Barack Obama and Republican nominee Mitt Romney likely will draw local voters to the polls Nov. 6.
"The national races are always sexier to watch than state or local races," Marshall said. "It's one of my pet peeves. The state and local level is where most of your tax dollars are spent, but the turnouts are typically backwards in terms of how it affects your everyday life."