Deployed troops see voting as hassle, duty
BAGHDAD — Soldiers in the war zone may have plenty of reasons for not registering to vote. Yet many of the troops say they either have registered or plan to do so soon.
Some said the enthusiasm of their voting assistance officer can make the difference in whether a soldier will sign up to take part in the upcoming presidential election.
Asked whether he has registered to vote, Sgt. Carlos Pagan, 22, of Bronx, N.Y., replied, “Negative.”
But Pagan, who is with the 1st Battalion, 41st Infantry, said he hasn’t registered to vote yet “because I am planning to register as soon as I get back stateside for R&R [rest and recuperation].”
Pagan would not say when he expects to be home, but he said he has voted in two presidential elections and he doesn’t plan to quit now.
“It takes maximum participation,” Pagan said. “You can’t expect things to go your way if you don’t participate.”
Pagan’s unit mate, Sgt. Harry Deboise, 31, from Freetown, Mass., said Thursday that he sent in his absentee ballot only two days ago.
The reason, Deboise said, is that the company’s voting assistance officer “came around and asked if any of us would like to vote.”
In Pagan’s and Deboise’s unit, the voting assistance officer “gives us the absentee ballots,” explains the process and takes a very proactive role, Deboise said.
And as noncommissioned officers, “We preach [voting] to the soldiers as well, Pagan said.
“It all depends on how much the [assistance officer] cares,” said a captain, who asked not to be named.
Many voting assistance officers see the job as just one more collateral duty on top of many, and for soldiers trying to get their missions done and still sleep, the entire enterprise was just one paperwork nightmare, the officer said.
The captain said he hadn’t bothered to sign up to vote in part because “no one was really there to remind me.”
“I think if someone had just come up and said ‘Hey, have you done this? It’s really easy,’ that would have tipped me over the edge and I would have done it,” the officer said. “But I never got the feeling anyone really cared that much, and I just keep sort of putting it off.”
A field-grade officer at a forward base in the Sunni Triangle who asked not to be named because, he said, he is not supposed to talk about politics, said he hadn’t signed up because he was not happy with his choices.
“Do I vote for the guy who got us into this, or someone who could be worse?” he said. “I just wish desperately there was a third choice.”
But Pagan — who was not part of the conversation with the officer — said such responses hold no weight.
“You can’t make a difference if you don’t vote,” Pagan said. “You have to be part of the solution.”
Not voting makes you “part of the problem,” Deboise said.
Lt. Col. James Hice agreed.
“I’d be un-American if I didn’t vote,” said Hice, 58, of Turnersville, N.J., with the 358th Civil Affairs Brigade of Norristown, N.J. The unit is attached to the 350th Civil Affairs of Psychological Operations Command in Baghdad. “If you don’t register, you shouldn’t have any comment about the outcome.”
Hice’s friend, Lt. Col. Richard Weaver, 51, of Pensacola, Fla., with 350th Civil Affairs Brigade, said that he hopes to be home in time to personally pull the voting lever.
One soldier, Spc. John Cutter, 25, from Aberdeen, Wash., said he has not registered to vote in the upcoming presidential elections because “we’ve been really, really busy.”
But other members of his unit, Company B, 1st Battalion, 161st Infantry Regiment, from Fort Lewis, Wash., have managed to find time to send in their packets.
Sgt. Charles Thomas, 31, from Mercer Island, Wash., said he registered to vote in the upcoming presidential elections almost three months ago.
“If you don’t like the way things are going, you’re not doing your part to change” it by not voting, Thomas said.
Pvt. 2 Shane Zitkovich, age 21, from Edmonds, Wash., and Staff Sgt. Allen Olson, 35, from Shoreline, Wash., both with Company B, 1-161st, were eating a hasty lunch Thursday after a harrowing mission in Baghdad.
“Being over here has definitely changed my perspective on politics and elections,” Zitkovich said.
“So it’s pretty simple,” Zitkovich, said, as he slapped on his gear and prepared to go out and hit the streets of Baghdad once again.
“I care about who is running our country.”