A Patriotic Paradox

December 5, 2011

Defending the freedoms of the United States is a worthwhile cause particularly following the attacks on 9/11, but doing it without the freedom to vote adds an interesting twist. Maybe I should say, “Wondering if my vote counted added that twist,” when I was on the other side of the world at Joint Base Balad (JBB), Iraq during the election of November 2010.

Now anyone in the military gets good at paperwork quickly because there is plenty of it. We have a saying, “Trust…but verify!” Before leaving for Iraq in July 2010, in preparation for the election, I triple checked (literally) to be sure that I had everything in order to receive my absentee ballot at JBB. I was told by the County Clerk that I would be receiving my ballot six weeks before the election in order for me to have time to vote and then get it sent back to the U.S. on time in order to be counted.

The first week of October, 2010 came, but my absentee ballot did not. I emailed from Iraq and received no response. Two days later, I emailed again and received no response, but also called the same day to say that my absentee ballot had not arrived. I finally got the county clerk’s office to say that my ballot was sent. I made sure that the clerk had my current APO address in order to expedite the process.

The second week in October ended and a new inquiry into the location of my ballot began. I repeated the process, but called and emailed the same day. I was told that my ballot had been sent back to the address, so the county clerk was sending it to my home address. I asked them to send it priority or federal express and I would pay for it, but I was refused. I said that my wife could pick it up, but that was refused.

Sure enough, it was mailed to my home address this time through regular mail, arriving three days later from a location seven minutes from our home. My wife had received instructions to send it to me priority mail, which she did, because Fed Ex is not guaranteed in this part of the world. I finally received my ballot on October 26, promptly voted, signed my absentee ballot, and mailed it from the Post Office on JBB. The mail clerk said my ballot “should get there on time,” but it did take eight days for it to get to me via priority mail.

Perhaps in eternity I will know whether my vote counted, but I do know that my voting experience overseas amongst a largely conservative group was not unique, or even rare. Rather, this was the norm, specifically among registered Republicans. The paradox is the fact that all of the people, military and civilian, serving in a war zone want to ultimately see freedom prevail, yet are not sure our vote is being counted in the “free” society we are working so hard to defend.

Our nation has the greatest technology in the world and can track things that you would not even want to know. In light of this, why will our government not set up a system that only allows one vote per person and makes it count regardless of a person’s location within the correct district? In the Air Force, we operate under the Core Values, the first being “Integrity First.” We live it, model it, teach it, and expect it. Now I would like to see our great nation, under God, do the same as well.

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