Although Lt. Lynn Shradley didn't vote in the last presidential election, she plans to this year. She even took her political involvement a step further, helping other soldiers apply for absentee ballots during an election fair at Fort Campbell.
The 23-year-old, who now has an Iraq deployment under her belt, said the war is one reason why she's interested.
"I feel we should finish the job," she said. "That's why I want to vote because I do have an opinion."
With 1.4 million service members, military voters like Shradley can make a difference in the presidential election, and the military has stepped up efforts to help them cast their ballots.
Guard troops from Camp Atterbury in Indiana deployed to Afghanistan with absentee voter booklets this summer. At Fort Drum, N.Y., soldiers were encouraged by their superiors to vote and, like other military bases around the globe, a voter assistance officer was assigned to each unit to answer questions.
Each military branch also has a voter information Web site, and some posts included voter information on their home pages.
"A great emphasis has been placed to try to rectify challenges we faced in the election cycle of 2000," said Lt. Col. Joe Richard, a Department of Defense spokesman.
In the last presidential election, some ballots were rejected in Florida, where George W. Bush's razor-thin margin of victory gave him the presidency after an extended legal battle. Several hundred absentee ballots from troops abroad were thrown out in the state for lack of postmarks, as required by state law, or other flaws such as no signatures.
On ships, military postal personnel have been instructed to postmark ballots.
Not all efforts to improve the voting process have gone smoothly, however. Because of security concerns, the Pentagon canceled plans earlier this year that would have allowed up to 100,000 military and overseas citizens from seven states to cast ballots through the Internet.
Military personnel from Missouri will be allowed to vote by e-mail in the upcoming election, which some Internet security experts say opens up the election to fraud. But a spokeswoman for Missouri Secretary of State Matt Blunt, a Republican, said safeguards are in place.
Joe Gershtenson, director of Eastern Kentucky University's Center for Kentucky History and Politics, said the military's efforts could benefit President Bush in the election against Sen. John Kerry because people in the military tend to vote Republican.
"Obviously, you will find exceptions to that," Gershtenson said. "But, if I were President Bush, I would feel very good, very comfortable about getting as many folks in uniform to vote as possible."
Military officials behind the drive say the effort is nonpartisan.
Fort Campbell straddles the Kentucky-Tennessee border, 50 miles north of Nashville. Gentry McCreary, spokesman for the Democratic Party in Tennessee, said there are soldiers who oppose Bush's decision to go to war in Iraq and support Kerry, but don't feel comfortable expressing their views.
Party backers are going door-to-door near the post encouraging military families to vote Democrat, McCreary said.
At Fort Campbell, 1,155 soldiers and 220 military spouses either applied for absentee ballots or registered to vote during the election fair in September. Many of the participants were first-time voters.
Staff Sgt. Forrest McCann, 37, plans to vote for the first time in his 14 years in the Army.
"People running in the past didn't catch my interest. With everything going on in the world, there are issues both parties are talking about I care about," he said.
"I figured, I guess the saying is true, you can't complain if you don't vote."
By Kimberly Hefling
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