Alaska e-Post online

Service members need to participate in process they have helped secure

Mary M. Rall

Alaska Post editor

Mary M. RallI admit I didnít vote in the first election in which I was eligible to participate. Although I was the first to say how wonderful America was because of the rights and privileges we enjoy as citizens, I didnít fill in the ovals on my first ballot until 1992, when my first sergeant made going to the polls a clear expectation.

Who knows if his enthusiasm for voting as the lead noncommissioned officer for Fort Richardsonís Special Troops Battalion in 1992 was due to a deeply rooted sense of civic responsibility or the fact the Army was stressing the importance of voter registration, but he was the reason I headed to the polls for the first time. That initial trip has been followed by many since that have helped shape the way I perceive our nationís leadership and political system.

I wonít begin to claim to be any sort of political scholar. Half the time I have to make a genuine effort to look into the issues and who the players are prior to the election simply because Iíve been tuning out the bombardment of Proposition 4 commercials and the like. No, Iím just a journalist who finds a deep satisfaction in participating in our countryís process of election and canít understand why it isnít a priority for everyone in our country to be a part of the experience Ė especially service members.

I have seen my fair share of people in uniform at the polls, but canít grasp why all service members donít make voting a priority when Election Day rolls around. Soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines serve voluntarily and regularly put their lives at risk for seemingly endless deployments to help provide the basic freedoms so many in America take for granted, yet many willfully choose not to exercise their right to vote here. It truly dumbfounds me.

I believe in a lot of things ó to include truth, justice and the American way ó but claim no party affiliation. I went back and forth for quite some time trying to figure out whether I was more Republican or Democrat. Eventually, I decided I didnít care, because I didnít have to declare myself ďredĒ or ďblue.Ē As I became an active voter, I realized the party of the person I was voting for wasnít as important to me as whether or not a candidate was the best person for the job. I figured it was more important to have a voice, regardless of whether or not I walked a party line.

Once I reconciled my nonpartisan self, I found more pleasure at the polls simply because I felt I had the opportunity to enjoy even more freedom than party-affiliated voters, many of whom are content to narrow their voting to one side or the other. That method may be fine for some, but I let it fly at the polls, taking pleasure in being unpredictable. 

Those who have never been to a voting location canít truly appreciate the experience. Thereís nothing refined about the process, because itís just that: a process. You stand in a line with other people who have stopped in on their way home from work while you read the sample ballots and voter information an enthusiastic volunteer has taped on the walls of the school, office or mall space that has been temporarily converted for the auspicious day.

When you get to the front of the line, you sign your name on a printout that has an uncanny resemblance to the stacks of folded and perforated paper the old Commodore 64sí printers used to spew out and collect your ballot, which is tucked into a specially-designed sheath for your voting privacy, from the next volunteer along the way.

Next comes the decision as to whether or not you should wait your turn to slip behind the red, white and blue curtain of one of the portable ďboothsĒ that have been erected for your voting privacy or if you should simply grab a black pen and take a seat at a table, unabashedly filling in ovals in full view of all present. Personally, I prefer the booths, because there is always something fun about being behind any kind of curtain, but Iím not threatened by others seeing for whom I vote either. I go with the flow in this too, choosing whichever option is most readily available.

Once youíve carefully filled in the appropriate ovals next to your picks for local and national candidates and whatever bills or ballot measures voters are being asked to decide on, itís time to slip your ballot back into the vote-concealing sheath and head to the last stop in the voting procession to feed it into the high-speed ballot-eating machine, which earns you an ďI voted todayĒ sticker from the last of many volunteers manning the post.

While that sticker isnít quite as cool as the ďSĒ on Supermanís chest, yours makes just as great a statement in that it validates the fact you exercised your super powers of persuasion and took an active role in the last part of his credo by participating in what is a fundamental part of the American way. Bullets wonít bounce off your chest, and you wonít be able to run faster than a locomotive (unless itís standing still, of course), but you will have officially gained the right to take pride in the fact you helped put someone in office or complain about the candidate who is elected if it isnít your horse who wins the race.

The Nov. 4 Election Day is shaping up to be an historic one for Alaska and the nation as a whole, and itís still not too late to make your vote count. Those who want to vote have until Oct. 5 to register, so itís time to stop procrastinating and to actively participate in one of the freedoms service members have helped to secure.

For more information on how to register to vote, log onto www.presidentialelection.com or call the For Richardson voting assistance officer, Bob Hall, at 384-2546 or the Fort Wainwright voting assistance officer, Nancy Bahr, at 353-7629.