Ensuring veterans' voices are heard

A Cedar Rapids man checks his ballot while voting in Marion. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)

Veterans Day exists to honor the courage and sacrifice of American men and women who have stood to defend our nation. As an Iraq War Veteran, I’ve seen firsthand the price paid to protect our freedoms. That’s why I believe Veterans Day is also an opportunity for all of us to recommit ourselves to participating in the democracy that our veterans have fought to defend.

Actively participating in the democratic process by exercising our right to vote should be high on the list of ways to honor Veterans. Unfortunately, too many Americans take their right to vote for granted and don’t participate in our elections — this has to change.

As a Veteran and candidate for Secretary of State — Iowa’s chief election officer — I’m committed to making it easier for all eligible voters, regardless of their party, to participate. While partisan politics has the tendency to divide us, what unites us is our respect for free and fair elections because that’s what we have been fighting for all along.

Since the military is the front line of our democracy, it should be a top priority to ensure that military votes are always counted and are never lost. Yet, this isn’t always the case. While I was serving in a combat zone, I took the initiative to help my fellow Soldiers cast their ballots from abroad. I worked with county auditors across Iowa to request and return ballots and saw the many logistical problems that arose with the transfer of absentee ballots to and from the United States. This resulted in a situation in which many ballots arrived late — or did not arrive at all. This is unacceptable.

Voting is the bedrock of our democracy, and our veterans have fought valiantly for more than 240 years to protect this fundamental right. This is precisely the reason why our elected officials must begin to produce innovative solutions that mitigate the problems associated with voting from overseas locations.

For example, our officials in Iowa could take the lead in an effort to allow service members abroad to submit their ballots through a secure online system. We can also improve partnerships with the Iowa National Guard and other agencies to ensure information about elections is communicated to our neighbors who are serving their country.

Whether you’re a Veteran or not, we must continue to make sure that voting is secure and accessible for all eligible voters. Whether it’s protecting access to early voting options or raising awareness of local elections, the Secretary of State needs to lead on this issue.

Our country will always be striving to become a “more perfect Union” and our veterans will always be an integral part of this mission. While our service members are defending democracy abroad, we must do our part to ensure that their voices are heard here at home.

• Jim Mowrer is an Army veteran and a Democratic candidate for Iowa secretary of state