Back in the bad old days of defense procurement scandals, we gritted our teeth when it was revealed that the military had spent $640 of taxpayer money for a single aircraft toilet seat. Now we learn that the Pentagon has financed the $73,809 vote. That's right, vote, as in presidential election.
The Defense Department spent $6.2 million on a pilot project to encourage voting via the Internet by military personnel overseas last November. The program was a waste, according to election experts. Just 84 people voted for president, making the cost of each ballot nearly $74,000. And officials admit that votes were permitted from non-secure home personal computers.
The benignly titled Federal Voting Assistance Program might go down in public policy lore as just one more in a long line of tragi-comic boondoggles were it not for the fact that 52 of those votes were cast in Florida. It was previously reported that a Republican congressman improperly enlisted the Pentagon's help in locating military personnel overseas as part of the Bush campaign's ultimately successful campaign to push Sunshine State election officials into skirting state law and counting rejected overseas ballots.
A study by the New York Times found nearly 600 overseas votes that failed to comply with Florida law but were accepted anyway by election officials, chiefly in heavily Republican counties. Scarcely anyone needs to be reminded that George W. Bush was awarded Florida's decisive electoral votes by just 537 ballots.
No one doubts that a standardized system of handling overseas ballots is needed, but, for security reasons, the Internet should not be the pipeline. Several post-election studies, including one by former presidents Ford and Carter, have warned against Internet voting simply because the process remains vulnerable to hackers, viruses, and vote fraud.
It would be hard to say with certainty that the overseas voting program constituted outright politicizing of the military, which is illegal under federal law. But it certainly will go down as one more sad chapter in the history of a presidential election gone awry.