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Tonight's draft lottery would seem to provide an excellent occasion for wildly happy parties-and for miserably unhappy gatherings as well.
The new draft lottery system-which President Nixon signed into law Wednesday-was supposed to clarify each man's draft status. But the draft system is, at least temporarily, more confused than ever before.
At 8 p. m. tonight, the Selective Service System will hold its lottery-by-birth-date. All men 19 to 25 years of age, inclusive, will be affected.
Those with birthdays drawn first will be the first to be inducted; those with birthdays drawn near the bottom of the list will be almost sure of exemption throughout the year. Those classified 1-A and not drafted during the year will drop into a lower-priority pool and will ordinarily be draft-exempt for the rest of their lives.
But it's not that simple. Peter Flanigan, a Nixon staff expert on the draft, has admitted that the plan leaves a giant loophole. Anyone who has a deferment at least until January, 1971, can parlay it into a permanent exemption from the draft-if he draws a low place in the lottery for this year.
For example, consider a college junior whose birthday is September 10. If September 10 is the last birthday drawn, men born on that date and classified II-A in 1970 would be safe from the draft, barring a huge war.
The order of call a man 19 or over receives tonight stays with him until he has passed through one year of I-A vulnerability. So if the junior is classed near the top of the order of call tonight, he cannot escape that rank by waiting for a later year.
But he can wait until late in 1970 and try to estimate how many men under his local draft board have higher numbers and how many might be called. If it looked safe, he could drop out of school, wait to not be drafted, and go on with whatever he wanted to do: His liability would expire the first day of 1971.
At least that's how it looks to Flanigan. But Selective Service officials say a man is liable to be drafted for twelve months. All that is certain now is that the issues are confused.
More confusion: Say Sept. 10 is drawn first tonight, and July 14 is drawn first next year. Who is drafted first in 1971, a 19-year-old with a July 14 birthday or the college junior born Sept. 10 whose deferment expires?
The Selective Service System isn't sure yet.
In addition, the draft process will remain in the hands of local boards-some of which will get much further down the list of birthrates than others.
As a special bonus this year, the draft pool is larger than it will be again. Every1-A aged 19 to 25, inclusive, during 1970 will be in the pool for that year. In later years, only those who turned 19 the previous year-and those who lose exemptions during the year-will be draft-able.
Men with occupational deferments could also quit their jobs in a year that was "safe" for them, and never have to worry about a deferment again.
(The new system in no way affects the present system of educational and occupational deferments, which will still be available. Some men will be able to avoid entering the pool entirely, as they can at present, by remaining deferred until they are 26 although they might be safer to join the pool in a year when they thought they could not be drafted.)
Or so it seems. The loophole is so big that some Harvard Office of Graduate and Career Plans officials say they are convinced the government will fill it by executive order this month, before the plan goes into effect in January.
If the government does not act, the new draft plan-supposedly intended to be more equitable than the old-may give college students a bigger advantage than ever before.
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