Voting commentary: Soldiers making their voices heard
November 6, 2012
WASHINGTON (Army News Service, Nov. 6, 2012) -- Today Soldiers are participating in one of America's most fundamental freedoms, the right to vote.
Many in harm's way and others stationed around the globe have already voted absentee and many others back home took advantage of early voting.
When young men and women join the Army, they may perceive that they lose some of their freedoms, the right to come and go as they choose and change jobs, among others, all in the interest of protecting those freedoms for others.
But the freedom to elect their federal, state and local representatives remains. And, Soldiers who are U.S. citizens get to select their highest military leader, their commander-in-chief, the president of the United States.
Soldiers and other service members are apparently taking their opportunity to vote in increasing numbers.
There was a 21 percent increase in the active-duty military voter participation rate between 2006 and 2010 (both non-presidential election years), while the Census Bureau reported that the general U.S. population voter participation rate dropped, according to the Federal Voting Assistance Program DOD Survey (Sept. 2011), which termed this trend "remarkable."
Also, the active duty military voter registration rate of 85 percent remained essentially the same between 2008, a presidential election year and 2010, a non-presidential election year, while the general U.S. voter registration rate dropped markedly in 2010, according to the survey.
This is good news for getting out the military vote, despite the fact that a significant number of active-duty military voters indicated they never received the absentee ballots they requested in 2010.
Congress passed the Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment Act in 2009, requiring more electronic voting tools and expedited ballot returns for overseas military voters.
Despite the problems, the upward trend in military voting in recent years might be the result of several factors besides political issues and platforms.
The DOD survey analysis suggests that improvements in online voter assistance might play a role.
For example, the Federal Voting Assistance Program website (http://www.fvap.gov/) provides all of the information Soldiers and their spouses need to register and vote absentee in elections for federal office.
It should be noted that unit voting officers can provide information to Soldiers and their spouses no matter where they are stationed. Their primary reference is the Voting Assistance Guide (www.fvap.gov/resources/media/vag2012.pdf).
Social media as well has been playing an increasingly important part in getting out the vote. Social networking sites like Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter promote voting information such as registration and voting deadlines and procedures, and often (but not always) help voters make better informed decisions by laying out and explaining the facts and issues.
The reliance on social media is especially important to Soldiers, most of whom are young and rely less than their elders did on getting their news and views from newspapers or television.
As the election day hoopla ends and the new military voting survey is tallied, let's hope that the upward trend in military voting continues and that the problems with absentee voting decrease.