Voting- it does a country good

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Joe McFadden
  • 1st Special Operations Wing Public Affairs
It's already July, and most people, save a few political junkies, are probably not thinking about this year's elections. However, when you look at past voter participation rates, it may make you think you should.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, more than 63 percent of registered voters participated in the 2008 U.S. presidential election, the highest level in 40 years. But nearly 60 million eligible voters (nearly twice the population of California) didn't register, and more than 15 million people (nearly twice the population of New York City) who did register didn't go to the polls at all.

The status for military personnel is less promising. A 2009 report by the Brennan Center for Justice found the registration rate for military voters is nearly 20 percentage points lower than the general population. In one article, U.S. News and World Report cited another survey that military personnel reported having nearly twice as many registration problems than non-military voters.

And with all the different forms and deadlines from state-to-state, how are people, especially deployed Airmen, supposed to keep up with the process?

To keep military personnel abreast with each election cycle's rules and guidelines, the Federal Voting Assistance Program utilizes voting assistance officers on military installations throughout the world to help service members register and file their votes on time. The program's special message to military voters is that one can "be absent, but be accounted for."

FVAP also dedicated June 28-July 7 as Armed Forces Voters and Overseas Citizens' Voters Week to help more than 6 million military members, voting age dependents and overseas voters get involved in the registration process. According to a FVAP press release, if uniformed service and overseas voters started the voting process earlier than their stateside friends and relatives, there would be fewer mistakes at the outset of the process.

"The main purpose of this program is to ensure all federal employees are informed about how to vote for their local, state and national elections," said Capt. Jorge Rativa, 1st Special Operations Communications Squadron plans and resources flight commander and installation VAO for Hurlburt Field. "And, more importantly, to ensure all military personnel, their family members and those deployed have this information available as well."

As installation VAO, Captain Rativa oversees a team of fellow officers, who are nominated by their unit commanders, from every unit on base. He provides them with materials, like absentee ballot requests and write-in ballots, and information, like the listings of the deadlines and contact officials for every registration office in the country, so they can share it with their people.

While VAOs inform people about the process, Captain Rativa adamantly stated they are not in the business of campaigning.

"It's important to note the Hatch Act, which states we are not allowed to push people towards one political party or another," he said. "We simply encourage them to participate in the process by showing them how to do it."

Although he's only been in the position since March, Captain Rativa said his childhood in Colombia gave him an insight into how powerful democracy is.

"The military in Colombia is not allowed to vote," he said. "To be in this country and see such a contrast where the military is encouraged to vote, I found that very interesting and it caught my attention. I want to remind Airmen that it's not only a privilege, but a duty of ours to vote."

2nd Lt. Amber Gasparetto, 1st Special Operations Contracting Squadron, became a VAO for the first time last month. She's already set goals to make sure that any deployed unit member knows when to vote by either sending e-mails or conducting meetings to go over the different forms and deadlines with her team.

"Since a lot of military members are deployed, it's important to reach out to them and remind them to vote absentee," she said. "We're all registered in different states and have different dates that we have to comply with, so this is a way I can help others."

And with this year's midterm elections a mere four months away, the opportunity for VAOs help others in the democratic process is abundant.

"Voting is very important, because it's a way to express ourselves," Lieutenant Gasparetto said. "There may people who think 'I'm not going to vote because it doesn't matter,' but it really does. A single vote could really make such a big difference."

FVAP is a program supported by the Secretary of Defense that encourages both military and Department of State VAOs to enlist the help of organizations to participate in AFVW and OCVW. For more information about voting or to become involved in the program, please contact Captain Rativa, your unit VAO or the program's website at