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OPINION

Defend vets by making voting more accessible to them

By MATTHEW V. MASTERSON | Special to Stars and Stripes | Published: November 10, 2017

As chairman of the U.S. Election Assistance Commission, one of my priorities is to improve voting accessibility for the men and women who are currently serving in our armed forces, as well as the military veterans whose sacrifice serves as the foundation for our democracy. Last year, I had the opportunity to meet some of the nation’s finest soldiers during a tour of Joint Base San Antonio and to witness battlefield medical training. It was a powerful and humbling experience to see young men and women, most between the ages of 18 to 22, prepare for the harsh reality of the battlefield and watch them mature into soldiers. I also realized that day that within the drills on tactical field care and managing battlefield injuries lay a lesson on the ability of a simple solution to solve a massive problem.

Every presenter I met that day in San Antonio spoke of the importance of applying tourniquets when soldiers are wounded in battle. Until recently military medical personnel were trained to use tourniquets only as a last resort because it was deemed a hindrance to proper treatment in the field and could be dangerous to soldiers wounded on the battlefield. That approach changed when new data analysis about battlefield casualties and causes of death showed a large number of wounded soldiers died due to blood loss before ever reaching a military hospital. Today, the tourniquet is often the first step taken when treating a wounded soldier because it immediately mitigates the greatest threat to life and gives the soldier the best chance to make it to the hospital to receive more advanced treatment. This simple decision is credited with contributing to the dramatic reduction in battlefield casualties across all services.

I have often thought about the lessons contained within that simple, elegant solution, and whether a similar scenario may lie in the world of administering elections, especially for our nation’s veterans. While veterans vote at a significantly higher rate than civilians, this community still faces considerable obstacles when they go to cast a ballot. Many live with traumatic brain injuries, amputations, post-traumatic stress disorder, or any number of cognitive and physical injuries, and election officials often grapple with finding the best solution to meet their needs.

Part of the problem stems from the fact that when veterans go to vote, few poll workers are veterans, themselves. It is also true that, unlike the nearly 4 million U.S. military veterans with service-connected disabilities, very few poll workers have firsthand experience managing such disabilities.

Could there be a simple, elegant solution to making the process of voting more accessible to veterans? One thing we know from the EAC’s Election Administration & Voting Survey (EAVS), the most comprehensive nationwide data about election administration in the U.S., is that recruiting poll workers continues to be a challenge for many jurisdictions. The most recent EAVS found that almost half of all jurisdictions reported they had a difficult time recruiting poll workers.

To me, part of the answer to serving our nation’s veterans better lies in involving more veterans in the voting process. This means not only giving veterans the resources they need to cast ballots, but recruiting them to serve as poll workers.

There is much election officials can do to revise our procedures to create a better process that ensures full access for voters, particularly those who have served our country. The Election Assistance Commission is committed to working with election officials as they prepare for the 2018 federal election cycle to analyze the data and find those simple, inexpensive solutions that can improve services to voters, and increase the efficiency and accuracy of the process.

However, part of the answer lies in involving more veterans and making sure the poll workers reflect the diversity of the voters they are serving. Every time election officials engage current and former members of the armed services, we learn something different about how veterans experience voting and ways we can help make that process easier.

Improving services for those who have served us will improve the voting process for all Americans. We have a particular obligation though to ensure those who have given so much for their country can exercise their most basic right as Americans — the right to vote.

Matthew V. Masterson is chairman of the U.S. Election Assistance Commission.

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