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Ben Miller: For Deployed Military, Voting is Long and Arduous, But Technology Can Help

Broadband Breakfast Staff

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The author of this Expert Opinion is Ben Miller, former U.S. Army Ranger

I learned early that voting is a privilege.

My father grew up as one of 7 children in a poor family in South Dakota. He served in the Army to help pay for college and pursue the American Dream. I grew up believing anything was possible if I worked hard enough, and this was because we lived in a country that allowed its people the power to select its leaders. My father never failed to vote.

I followed my father’s footsteps and joined the Army. In my military ethics class, I was taught that good officers remain apolitical, otherwise, we risked a divide between the military and its elected civilian authorities. I was convinced not to vote for the first several years of my service.

That changed in 2016. I was deployed to Afghanistan and saw firsthand how policies made in the Pentagon and White House determined U.S. policy in war zones. Looking around, it was abundantly clear: my responsibility as a citizen and a soldier required me to vote.

In October 2016 I embarked on the journey to vote from my unit in Afghanistan. While the Federal Voting Assistance Program has done a great job making the voting process easy to understand, the actual process of voting is long and arduous. Miraculously, I managed to complete my voter registration form and drop it in the mail — a monumental process in Afghanistan.

My registration form was then placed in a bundle of letters that was set aside to be air-lifted (via helicopter) to Bagram Air Field. Helicopters usually came to our base once a week. Once at BAF, the mail is handled by a small USPS outpost that ensures the mail makes it to the states in 1-2 weeks.

After 3 weeks, I got an email confirming that I was registered to vote and that my ballot was on its way. My ballot was shipped to Afghanistan, where it was processed by that USPS office and set aside in a 6ft x 6ft x 6ft box dedicated for mail coming to our little outpost in remote Afghanistan. Once that box was full, it would be loaded onto a helicopter to be delivered to our camp. This process could take anywhere from 2-6 weeks.

Why does it take so long? Because the priority in Afghanistan was not voting — it was fighting a war. For us leaders, soldiers, airmen and seamen alike, we are focused on the mission. No one talked about voting, no one encouraged it. But why would they? Mission first!  Our unit was always on a mission and we had a tough job to complete under difficult conditions.

As soon as I received my ballot, I filled it in and mailed it back home. To this day, I do not have confidence that my vote was counted, but it felt good knowing I’d exercised my right.

The logistical nightmare of overseas voting is exactly that—a lack of confidence. So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that only 6.9 percent of eligible voters overseas actually vote.

Unlike previous wars, our viral moments are not beautiful hand-written letters, but text messages and heartbreaking video conversations between family members. We’ve successfully transitioned all communications to the digital age. Even on our small base in Afghanistan, we had Wi-Fi. If there was a way where everyone could vote from an app on their smartphone, we would vote in larger numbers.

The U.S. Army has the technology to secure networks in battlefields against hostile nations and enemies. We can successfully identify our personnel on the field and keep us safe using modern technology. It begs the question: is there a way to use this existing technology that allows us to vote by an app on our personal devices?

There have already been pilots allowing overseas citizens and deployed military to vote by an app on their smartphones. Now more than ever, the people we elect make decisions that impact our lives and the lives of those serving overseas.

Tech companies and the U.S. government should join hands to get each and every citizen, regardless of their geographical position, the ability to vote securely and conveniently. By moving to a digital system, FVAP states that voting could increase from 6.9 percent to 37.5 percent.

The challenges are great, but the reward is far greater.

Ben Miller is a U.S. Army Ranger and veteran of campaigns in both Afghanistan and Iraq. He left Active Duty in July 2020 to spend more time with his wife, Nicki, and daughter Savannah. They live in Park City, Utah, where he continues to serve as an officer in the Army Reserves. This piece is exclusive to Broadband Breakfast.

BroadbandBreakfast.com accepts commentary from informed observers of the broadband scene. Please send pieces to commentary@breakfast.media. The views reflected in Expert Opinion pieces do not necessarily reflect the views of Broadband Breakfast and Breakfast Media LLC. 

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