The Military Vote: A Technology Challenge Stretching Far Beyond The Current Election


Over the weekend I lent some help to a young man in California who asked that I help get an e-mail to the Secretary of Defense. Although I don’t correspond with the Secretary, I know a few people that do, and I think we got the e-mail on the way and believe it was probably read by the Secretary late Saturday 3 Nov. The e-mail reads as follows:

Begin forwarded message:
From: colt mcnealy
Subject: Lost Ballots For Our Troops
Date: November 3, 2012 9:25:13 AM PDT
Cc: xxxxxxxxxx

To Mr. Panetta, Honorable Secretary of Defense:

In the days leading to the election, it has come to my attention that there has been much controversy about the ability of the people to vote. In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, the officials have done a great job of ensuring that the citizens of the New England area will be able to vote. I also applaud the willingness of Democrats and Republicans to set aside differences and work together to address the crisis. However, it has come to my attention that ballots being sent to the soldiers abroad may have been destroyed in a most unfortunate plane crash, as described in the article below. I would be extremely pleased were you to redouble your doubtlessly tremendous efforts as Secretary of Defense to ensure that the soldiers who have risked all that they have for the safety and prosperity of our great nation may have an extended voting deadline, as the electoral college does not vote until some time later and it is unlikely that they will reach the deadline.

Please, in honor of our great heroes, may you do even more to ensure the right to vote for our military?


A Concerned Californian Citizen, Colt McNealy (Age 13)


Letters like that have an impact multiple ways, and I have a sense that we technologists should pay attention to the request. So I asked Colt (and his Dad) if I could reprint that email here so we could all dwell on it.

There are certainly some tactical actions that DoD could put in place to ensure the horrible plane crash discussed at the link above does not cause military votes to be lost. I don’t know what actions were put in place but it is feasible that military overseas could have been allowed to fax in or even e-mail their votes in, and then follow with a signed ballot to confirm the vote later. But those are tactical patches to this challenge. Can’t we technologists think up a strategic answer to this challenge? Something that ensures 100% of our military can vote, no matter what, no matter where they are?

I think I want to leave this post with that open ended question. I’ll personally think through some answers to these questions and ask that you do as well.

So I’ll just sign off saying thanks to Colt for making me think, and thanks for sticking up for our troops. I can tell you from experience it gets lonely out there and it helps knowing people care.

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Hannah Ornell

It is refreshing to see the concern that Colt has for the involvement of our troops in our political process. I’m curious as to how the Secretary responded to this email. Has he responded yet? I think that faxing the votes sounds like a feasible solution and I hope something like that worked out.