As an Army Captain, I deployed to Baghdad in May 2006, just a few months after the historic December 2005 Iraqi election. During my time in Iraq, I met countless Iraqis who proudly showed me photos of themselves and their family members holding up purple-stained fingers signifying they had voted in that election.
These men and women faced down roadside bombs, suicide bombers, and rooftop snipers, all for the chance to participate in a free and open election. Eighty percent of the Iraqi electorate turned out that Election Day. Over the past 100 years, Americans have not even come close to that level of turnout. Lately, it has been even worse.
In the 2012 presidential election, of the 235 million eligible voters in America, only 129 million — around 55 percent — bothered to show up to the polls. That’s without having to dodge sniper bullets.
So Election Day 2016, which lands just three days before Veterans Day, those who wore the uniform are issuing Americans a challenge: Don’t just thank veterans for our service. Honor our sacrifice by voting.
I joined the military to defend the American way of life and the freedoms we seem to increasingly be taking for granted. But while I understand that not everyone can serve this country in uniform, every eligible voter can embrace the responsibility to serve by voting.
That’s why today the veteran empowerment organization Got Your 6 joined the media company ATTN: in launching a new nonpartisan public service announcement, “Don’t Just Thank, Vote!”
The PSA features former U.S. Navy Petty Officer Seth Smith who once voted on an aircraft carrier floating in the middle of the Persian Gulf, former U.S. Army Specialist Kate Hoit who voted by absentee ballot while getting ready to deploy to Iraq, and U.S. Air Force Reserves Staff Sargent Corrina Ramos who has voted in every election.
Additionally, the PSA includes actors and veterans Rob Riggle, David Eigenberg, and J.W. Cortes, actors Tom Arnold and Joe Manganiello, who are using their celebrity to get the word out about our challenge.
Finally, the campaign is being supported through the online fundraising platform Omaze, which is selling “Don’t Just Thank, Vote!” t-shirts to raise funds and awareness to support the campaign.
We know that veterans are more engaged in the democratic process, but even if all 21.8 million veterans were to cast a ballot in November, we still wouldn’t reverse our nation’s poor voter participation rate. However, as veterans, we feel it is our responsibility to lead from the front.
Veterans are already statistically more likely to vote this Election Day. Got Your 6 recently released our Veterans Civic Health Index, which shows that veterans 15 percent higher voting rates in local election compared to their non-veteran counterparts.
So this Election Day, we are encouraging all Americans to do their duty. We want actions, not words. Don’t just thank, vote!
For more information, visit gotyour6.org/vote.
Bill Rausch is an Iraq War veteran and the Executive Director of Got Your 6.