U.S. soldiers, sailors serving abroad take time to cast a ballot

By SUSANNA RAY

Herald Writer

Most of us have pretty boring voting plans.

We’ll either drive to the polls today, or we’ve already filled out our absentee ballots with a cup of coffee at the kitchen table and dropped them in a mailbox.

But what do you do if you want to make your voice known, but you’re stuck on a warship in the Persian Gulf? Or registered to vote in Ohio but stationed in Everett?

"Washington makes it very easy for military members to vote, with the permanent absentee ballot," said Janet West. She grew up in Gold Bar and lived in Snohomish County until recently but is currently in central Bavaria, Germany, with her husband, who’s in the Army.

The family lives on a small Army post of about 4,000, which makes it "almost like living in Sultan again," West said.

"Even though I’m this far away, that’s still home to me, and I still vote," she said. "I need to feel connected. A lot of people come over here, they get in the service, and they never vote again."

Local Navy officials didn’t keep statistics this year of how many sailors stationed at Naval Station Everett registered to vote, but military posts around the country have seen a surge in voter registration, according to an article in The Virginian-Pilot.

And more than 1,200 sailors from the Everett-based USS Abraham Lincoln registered in a recent six-week voting drive aboard the aircraft carrier while it’s enforcing U.N. sanctions against Iraq in the Persian Gulf. That doesn’t count the number of sailors who were already registered.

"It was a great response from the crew," Lt. j.g. Wade Allen, the Lincoln’s voting officer, said in a news release.

In presidential elections, service members are essentially hiring their boss. The president is the military’s commander in chief.

That’s one reason why voting is so important to West, she said, but it’s also a precious link between her and her family and friends in Snohomish County. She tries to keep up with Snohomish County goings-on through e-mails and phone calls, and by reading online news services such as www.heraldnet.com.

West said she’s noticed that the Europeans she lives amongst feel much more strongly about elections.

"They value it," she said. "We have lost our sense of what it means."

The U.S. presidential elections are on the German news shows every day, she said, and she’s seen very in-depth coverage on British Broadcasting Corp. news.

Satellite TV aboard the ship is primarily how Lincoln sailors receive their election news, spokeswoman Lt. Cmdr. Denise Shorey said.

Technically, as long as absentee ballots are postmarked today, they’re valid. But West said international mail can be so unpredictable, she tries to send hers off early to make sure it gets in under the deadline.

"My husband and I were both raised with a family that believes very strongly in the community and civic responsibility," she said. "In close elections, one vote can make a difference."

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