DoD News Briefing - Mr. Kenneth H. Bacon, ASD PA
Bacon: Good afternoon.
Q: (Off mike) -- birthday -- (off mike)?
Bacon: No, no.
Bacon: And at my age, I -- I was feted by staff, as if it were my birthday. My birthday is later this month. And at my age, you can only stand to have one celebration for each birthday. So it's very painful to have multiple celebrations.
At any rate, I have a couple of announcements.
Saturday is Veterans' Day, the last Veterans' Day of this century, the century that arguably has been transformed by the bravery and presence of American soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines patrolling in both war and peace. There will be major celebrations in New York City, in New Orleans. And at 10:30 here, at Arlington National Cemetery, President Clinton and Secretary Cohen will participate in the National Veterans' Day observance at the Tomb of the Unknowns, where they'll conduct a wreath-laying ceremony.
Later in the day, at 1:00, President Clinton and Secretary Cohen will again participate at the groundbreaking ceremony of the National World War II Memorial on the National Mall. I think it's just beyond the reflecting pool. That's at 1:00.
And we have a list of other ceremonies that will be taking place over the weekend, so I commend that to your attention.
Tomorrow, the 10th of November, is the Marine Corps birthday, the 225th anniversary of the founding of the Marine Corps. And you probably saw Marines in their blues yesterday, getting ready for that.
We have 15 journalism students from various universities in the back of the room. Welcome. I think you're the journalism students, aren't you? You look like students. So we're glad to have you here.
On Monday -- this is tentatively scheduled -- we plan to have a background briefing on Secretary Cohen's coming trip to the Middle East. It will be at 3:00.
And also next week -- actually at -- late next week, the Army is sponsoring a conference called the Fletcher Conference on National Defense and International Policy at the Crystal Gateway Marriott.
It's on November 15th and 16th. And there are a long list of important speakers, including Secretary Caldera; the chief of Naval Operations, General Clark -- Admiral Clark; and retired General Wesley Clark; Deputy Secretary Rudy de Leon; Tommy Franks, General Franks, the commander in chief of our forces in the Central Command. All will be talking about security challenges facing the U.S. That's November 15th and 16th.
With that, I'll take your questions. Charlie?
Q: Ken, could you -- since you've said that he was going to the Middle East, could you give us the dates and the countries he's going to, maybe?
Bacon: We'll get to the details on Monday, when we give the briefing.
Q: Well, I mean, he is going to the Middle East. Is it soon? Could -- I mean --
Bacon: We will give the details on Monday.
Q: Do you have anything on several people in Kuwait being arrested for having some -- having -- being connected to some folks who were threatening to take -- to carry out attacks against U.S. interests in the Gulf and being connected with Osama bin Laden?
Bacon: I don't have anything on that. I mean, as you know, the FBI has been working assiduously on that, in connection with the Yemeni government. And it would be appropriate for them to discuss it, but not for me.
Q: This one in particular was in Kuwait. Have you heard of that, or do you know anything about that?
Bacon: Well, there have been a number of reports of crackdowns against potential terrorists throughout the Middle East, and I think I'll just let those reports stand on their own.
Q: Is this stuff that's going on in the Middle East -- is that affecting the schedule for Cohen? Because we were initially going to leave earlier.
Bacon: The schedule is still be worked, and that's one of the reasons I don't want to get into details.
Q: Is that one of the reasons why it's changing -- because of the unrest?
Bacon: There are a number of reasons why the schedule is changing. And we're still working on the schedule, and it's premature to discuss it.
Q: Ken, the Federal Voter Assistance Program -- can you provide us with some understanding of how they help the military get their votes in? And do they have numbers of military people that vote absentee, so on and so forth?
Bacon: They have a very extensive report that comes out, and much of this is on the Internet, and I would urge you to log on to get it off the Internet.
I thought I had the Internet address here, but it doesn't -- here it is: http://www.fvap.gov/. And since you're all reporters, I urge you to go on and report about what's on the Internet site.
The main job of this important program is to educate people and to get out the vote. It's to educate them about the need to vote and how to vote. That is not what candidates to vote for, but the mechanics of voting. And what they do for the military, in particular, is hold briefings on voting, the importance of voting, and how to vote, the procedures for voting.
One example, that we cited last Tuesday, was that they had a briefing for the crew of the Cole, before the Cole deployed, on voting, because they knew that the Cole was going to be deployed over the election period. And what they stress is the need for military people to get absentee ballots, if they're going to be out of town.
Of course, many military people are registered to vote in places they don't live. They typically register in a place they have been assigned at one point, sometimes early in their career, and they maintain that voter registration or that legal residence throughout their career. Sometimes they may be back -- typically there are large registrations in states with large military concentrations; Florida is one, Texas is another, California is another. And in those states, people move in and out, and as they're around the world in other places, they continue to vote there. But in order to do that, they have to get absentee ballots. And if they're stationed in places that may have -- that may be a long way away, and where the mail takes a long while to get from where they're stationed in the United States, they have to mail their ballot sufficiently in advance to meet the local deadlines.
The deadlines vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. In California, for instance, a ballot has to be received by 7:00 p.m., 19:00, on election day. In Florida, ballots have to be postmarked by election day, but they have to arrive within 10 days of the election day, if they are postmarked on election day. And then you probably have 50 variations of 50 different rules because they're set by the states.
So the purpose of the program is to help get out the vote and to tell people what procedures they must follow in order to get their ballots in on time.
Q: Ken, didn't you say before that some military people -- for instance, people on ships -- can mail in absentee ballots without having requested them from the state? Unless I'm mistaken, I think you said --
Bacon: There is something called a standard federal form, Standard Form 186, which is a form that allows people to vote in federal elections. That would be for president and vice president, for senator and House member. I don't believe that they can vote in gubernatorial races, which would be state races, or mayoral races, with these forms. If they have not been able to get an absentee ballot or they suddenly realize it's Election Day -- Election Day is upcoming and they know they can't get an absentee ballot on time, they can send in one of these Form 186s and vote in the presidential race.
Q: The reason I ask is, is because there is apparently a mistaken conception that Florida would know the exact number of absentee ballots coming in from the number requested. What you're saying is there could be absentee ballots coming in that weren't necessary requested, that there might be more.
Bacon: That is true. That is true. But I don't know how many Form 186s are distributed in a usual presidential year.
Q: Ken, you mentioned the Cole. Do you know whether the Cole, as a ship, sent their absentee ballots in before the attack on October 12th, or because the crew was back home before the election took place, if they simply voted when they returned to the U.S.? Do you know?
Bacon: I don't know the answer to that question. Of course, if they -- this would assume -- for them to vote, if they got back to the U.S., I assume that nobody would want to vote twice. So if they had sent in an absentee ballot, they wouldn't vote. If they hadn't sent in an absentee ballot, they would have to get to their state of residence, which might be Virginia, but it could be Florida or California or Illinois or any other place they might have been stationed.
Q: I understand also that there was some sort of a very small pilot program allowing some members of the military to vote online or via the Internet. Can you tell us anything about how that worked, how many people took part?
Bacon: Well, it got off to a slow start. There was a program to experiment with voting over the Internet.
They had hoped -- the Federal Voter Assistance Program had hoped to enlist 250 people. That is 50 people from five different locations -- from each of five different locations to vote over the Internet. They succeeded in enlisting 91 people and of those 91 people who signed up to participate in this experimental program, 84 actually voted. And of those 84 people, 52 voted in Florida; I believe 14 voted in Orange County, Florida, and 38 voted in Okaloosa County, Florida.
Basically what happened was that they responded to an advertisement to register for an experimental program. They then --
Q: These were all military?
Bacon: These were all -- they were supposed to be all military, yes.
And they had to set up a secure way to vote, essentially. They had to be able to, using an encryption method, sign that they had received and transmitted their ballot. So, an encryption program was set up to allow them to do that. They received a ballot over the Internet. They filled the ballot out and then transmitted it back.
Now, the ballot didn't arrive in a computer in Election Central at Orange County, Florida, it actually was printed out as a paper ballot and presented as a paper ballot. But everything --
Q: Was it a fax -- like an electronic fax?
Bacon: Well, yeah, like that. But everything else was done over the Internet. And the idea was to try to experiment with 21st century -- potential 21st century ways of voting for the future.
But, as I pointed out, the program, I think, got off to a slower start than anticipated because it had less than half the number of participants they'd hoped to have.
Q: And just to be clear: Those ballots presumably have all been counted because they were already -- they're not outstanding ballots?
Bacon: As far as I know, they're not outstanding. It's only a small number of ballots though -- 38 in one county and 14 in another.
Q: Well, apparently every vote counts.
Bacon: Well, that's true in every state, not just Florida. Every vote counts. That's why it's so important for people to vote.
Q: Let me ask you one other question. The conventional wisdom is that the military vote tends to skew Republican. Are you aware of any studies that might have been done about voting patterns of U.S. military personnel? Or is there any reason to think that that conventional wisdom is subject to question?
Bacon: Well, the short answer is I'm not aware of specific studies. But a more honest answer might be that I haven't sat down and looked at all the literature on voting patterns of people in the military, so I'm probably not a good person to comment on this.
Clearly, there have been some highly publicized reports or studies over the last year; one from the CSIS, Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, that made the point that military officers tend to be more conservative and more likely to be vote Republican than the population as a whole. This was based on some academic research done, I believe, in the last year or so. There have been other reports on that. There have been articles in some national publications that have made the same point. But I don't have -- I couldn't cite anything beyond what I've just said on that.
I also don't know whether there have been studies that attempt to distinguish voting patterns of officers from enlisted people. And because the demographics, the racial balance, ethnic balance, et cetera, could differ between the officer corps and the enlisted personnel, it's conceivable that you would have different voting patterns. But that doesn't mean necessarily that they would be radically different. I just don't know what the literature on that shows.
I mean, clearly, there are people who have probably studied this. Charles Moskos might be a person who studied this. He certainly studied the culture of the military extensively, and he might be a good person to go to. Now, having said that, I hope you don't all rush out and call him. I have no idea whether he's studied this or not, but it's the type of thing that he has studied in the past.
It's a good thing I don't have a phone here. It would ring off the hook.
Q: Do they get any literature or anybody teach them how to vote, where they should vote, or any literature or anything?
Q: Any pamphlets or literature or anything, or anybody tells them how to vote, where to vote?
Bacon: Well, people tell them what procedures to use in voting.
They don't say -- there is no Pentagon program or federal program that tells them for whom to vote. It tells them what the process is for getting a ballot. Remember, most military people are not stationed where they're registered to vote. They're not stationed where their official residence is. So all of them have to get absentee ballots in order to vote. And the military devotes a lot of time to encouraging soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines to embrace their responsibilities as citizens, or I would say their opportunities to vote as a citizen of the United States.
Q: So these ballots, they come directly to the states where they're registered, or they come to one place --
Bacon: No. That's a very good point. They're mailed back to the locality from which they get the ballot. In other words, you're not just registered to vote in a state; you're a resident of a town in that state, and so you would get a ballot that would list all the people running in local, state and national elections that particular voting time.
Q: Do the ships postmark their own mail?
Bacon: I don't know. (To staff) Do they postmark it?
Bacon: Yes, they do.
Q: And was there any special effort yesterday, any messages or anything sent out saying, you know, "Make sure that you remind folks to get their ballots in the mail today and postmark them and send them to us"?
Bacon: If it happened yesterday, we would be very suspicious.
Q: I'm sorry. (Off mike.) I was up till 6:15 working, so I'm not sure what day it is.
Bacon: Well, I'm not aware that there was any special effort. The key to success in generating votes from people in the military, in making sure that they can fulfill their opportunities and obligations as American citizens, the key to success is in early preparation, and it's getting the message out weeks and months before the election so people have enough time to get the absentee ballots and then to get them back in. So we try to do everything before the last minute when it comes to voting.
Q: Secretary Cohen yesterday said that there were -- he said that there were no widespread reports of people in the military unable to vote because they couldn't get a ballot, but he indicated there might have been some more routine problems. Do you have any better handle on whether there was any number of -- how many number of people in the military might have wanted to vote but, through whatever problems, were not able to?
Bacon: We do not keep records on that. It's -- the records -- the records aren't kept contemporaneously. The records are generated by post-election surveys. And they send out a random survey -- or they send out a survey to a random sample of people in the military -- I think it's 20,000 -- at some time after the election; it's within the month that the election occurred. I think a survey will go out this month. And they ask them if they had any problems voting and what those problems were.
The purpose of the survey is to help them calibrate and improve the system for the next election. For instance, the Internet voting experiment derived from the last survey in '96. In '96 -- actually, in 1990 -- this is very interesting and you'll want to write this down, I'm sure. In 1990, because of the number of soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines deployed to the Gulf area under Desert Shield, preparing for Desert Storm, they realized that they needed a faster way to allow people to vote, so they set up a fax voting system where they could get ballots by fax and then send them back in by fax.
And in 1996, they realized that despite all their efforts to convince people to vote early, because of the mobility of military people, and the fact that people frequently move out of their bases quickly and don't have a chance to file a change of address, that they -- people may not be getting ballots that they had expected. So they decided to look for a faster, more responsive way to vote, and that's how they came up with the Internet experiment.
So they will use the responses they get from the Year 2000 election survey to find out if there are additional improvements to make for 2002.
Q: But presumably there's always some number of people, however small, who have -- because of a sudden change of assignment or a rapid deployment to a breaking situation, their ballot just doesn't catch up with them.
Bacon: That could well be the case. And that's one of the reasons we have these forms, 186s, so at least they'll be able to vote in national elections.
Now, if you were out with a JCET team in a remote location in Asia, the ballot might not catch up with you under any circumstances. If you'd suddenly been assigned to a dental unit in East Timor -- (laughter) -- performing humanitarian work -- and don't laugh; we performed very good dental work in East Timor recently -- you might not get your ballot. So there will be people who fall between the cracks.
Q: Ken, can you update us -- it's been four weeks since the bombing of the Cole. Are U.S. ships all still deployed in the Gulf? Has anybody been allowed yet to pull into a port for refueling or any other reason? And how long do we think it will be before that happens?
Bacon: Well, first of all, I'm not aware that any ships have -- any combatants have gone into port for refueling. They are still being refueled at sea, in the Gulf area. The oilers obviously have to go in to refuel from time to time, so they can fill up their tanks and go back out to fuel the combatants at sea.
I don't know how much longer this will last. That will be determined in part by Admiral Moore, who's the commander of our naval forces in the area, the 5th Fleet, and of course by his boss, General Franks, who's the commander of the Central Command.
Q: Thank you.
Q: Please, I have one more question.
Q: You said that last week -- I mean last briefing -- that Bahrain has moved down to (threat condition) Charlie.
Q: Now why exactly would that happen? I mean, I know you can't specify specifically why, but I mean, what would cause that change, and what did cause that change?
Bacon: Well, I'm not going to explain what caused the change, but I can tell you the types of things that might cause the change. Troops -- the threat conditions reflect information we have at the time about threats faced by our troops. And if the information is highly specific and highly credible, then it could lead to the highest threat condition, which would be Delta.
If for some reason, based on all the information available to us, we believe that the circumstances that led to that threat being specific and credible have changed -- it could be -- the arrest of somebody would be one example -- then the -- and I'm not saying that's why it changed, but that could be an example of why it might change -- then the threat conditions would change, and the commander would make a decision about whether to lower the threat condition.
So it's that type of -- it's just -- we monitor the situation very, very closely. We work in close contact with local law enforcement agencies, and we look at information from every conceivable source. And if that information changes, then we adjust the threat condition accordingly.
Q: Thank you.
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