Essay: Soldier Inspires Voters On U.S. Base In Iraq Sgt. Asa Rubman, a paralegal, set up a voting drive in the dining room at his military base in Baghdad. Over the course of five days, nearly 600 soldiers, airmen and contractors cast absentee ballots — many for the first time.
NPR logo Essay: Soldier Inspires Voters On U.S. Base In Iraq

Essay: Soldier Inspires Voters On U.S. Base In Iraq

Sgt. Asa Rubman recently set up a voting drive in his base's dining facility, helping nearly 600 soldiers, airmen and civilian contractors to vote. Courtesy Nate Rawlings hide caption

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Courtesy Nate Rawlings

The Form

The Federal Write-In Absentee Ballot is a means to register and vote for military personnel living abroad. You can find the form here. More information about qualifications and other methods to vote absentee are available here.

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In 2000, as a freshman at Lehigh University in Pennsylvania, Asa Rubman made it his New Year's resolution to register 10 first-time voters.

"It was easier than losing 10 pounds, and I thought that would mean something important," Rubman, now a sergeant in the U.S. Army, recently told me in his office at Forward Operating Base Falcon in southern Baghdad.

Rubman is serving his second tour as a paralegal for the 1st Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, and he has served as the legal clerk for my battalion for more than two years. Worried that his absentee ballot would not arrive at the base in Iraq in time to affect the election, he researched the Federal Write-In Absentee Ballot and discovered he could vote any time by simply printing and filling out the requisite forms from the Internet.

"Basically, I just didn't trust the postal system to deliver my absentee ballot here in time to fill it out and return it to the States before the election was over," Rubman explained.

One of the biggest difficulties facing service members is time. Many local election boards mail absentee ballots up to a month before the election; however, if the ballot is lost or delayed in the mail, the delay — combined with the roughly two weeks required for some mail to reach the United States — can prevent the ballot from reaching the election board before the Nov. 4 voting date.

"I know that they count the absentee votes in the weeks after the election, but I wanted to make sure my vote counted before the outcome was decided," Rubman said.

While researching the write-in process, Rubman discovered it was possible to simultaneously register and vote using the same form. He set up a voting drive in the base's dining facility to make sure the 600 soldiers, airmen and civilian contractors were registered to vote. About 5 percent of his colleagues registered and voted simultaneously.

Many were unregistered and were voting for the first time.

"I explained to people that it was crucial to be involved in the process, and this was a cover-your-ass ballot," Rubman explained. "Worst case, you spend five minutes. Best case, you vote."

Among those voting for the first time was a civilian contractor who was born in Greece and had lived under a dictatorship for a period of time.

"He was really happy to vote and kept talking about how wonderful it was to be able to pick your leaders," Rubman recalled.

Rubman also assisted an Army captain who became a naturalized citizen shortly before deploying. "We registered him in Texas, and he'll vote for the first time from a combat zone."

Rubman enlisted the help of his fellow paralegals to assist the troops with filling out the forms properly. For nearly a week, they devoted three hours at every mealtime and then worked long past midnight to complete the work they had postponed in order to staff the voting drive. In every case, Rubman ensured that the individuals completing the voting forms carried the forms to the base post office themselves, both to ensure the integrity of the process and to encourage the troops to take ownership of their vote.

"Many soldiers questioned the impact of a single vote in such a large election. I explained to them that it's incredibly important to vote," Rubman said. "I gave a brief explanation of the Electoral College and made sure they understood that the state will go with a simple majority. What if you're that one vote that pushes your state to the other side? Then all of the electoral votes will swing to that side."

While many of the troops were familiar with the candidates, others had questions about the individuals on the ballot. Rubman strictly prohibited anyone from attempting to influence the voters.

"Some of the soldiers voted based on the pictures on the forms," Rubman said.

Spearheading a voting drive in a combat zone fits Rubman's dedication to contributing to the political process and reveals the interest in government that he brought with him in his unusual route to the military.

Rubman's father, Andrew, "a real hippie," according to his son, paid his way overseas by working on a Russian freighter and made his way to Israel in the early 1970s. It was there that he met Rubman's mother, Talia. The two were married and returned to the United States.

Andrew, a physician specializing in complementary medicine, interned with Dr. Robert Atkins, the creator of the Atkins diet, in New York City before moving his family to Watertown, Conn.

Sgt. Rubman graduated from the Taft School in Watertown, then earned a dual degree in political science and Middle Eastern religions at Lehigh University. After joining the Army, he studied Arabic at the Defense Language Institute, an elite language training center for exceptionally talented soldiers.

After completing this tour in Iraq, Rubman will to apply to graduate school at the University of Washington, where he intends to earn a law degree and master's degree in Middle Eastern studies. He hopes to return to the region, advising companies on legal matters in Middle Eastern countries.

Should he find himself abroad during another election, he will have no problem voting, and he will no doubt inspire other American expatriates to vote as well.

Do you have a question for Capt. Nate Rawlings about life in Iraq? You can send him one through this form or by posting it in the comments section below.