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In 2010, I deployed to a combat zone in Iraq with Army Special Forces. Iraq is a country whose citizens suffered through almost perpetual violence, hampered by minimal rule of law, few economic prospects, and a deep lack of trust in its government and institutions.

The endless struggles of this country, and the great American freedoms we fight to protect, were on my mind last Saturday, Oct. 26, when I proudly participated in voting early – an unprecedented step towards expanding access to voting, making New York the 39th state to allow some form of early voting in the United States.

I proudly served our country and defended our democratic values and institutions for more than 20 years as a senior naval officer, intelligence analyst and Middle East policy advisor at the Pentagon. For me, our democracy is sacred. But today, the sanctity of our free and fair elections faces threats both foreign and domestic.

Through cyber hacking and social media manipulation designed to flood every voter’s digital feed with false news stories to pit Americans against one another and divide our country, Russia attacked our free elections and democratic institutions in 2016. Now Russia, along with other dangerous foreign entities in countries like China, North Korea and Iran, are gearing up to do it again in 2020.

Then, right here at the local, state, and national levels, our very own legislators are making it more difficult to register to vote, purging registered voters from the voter rolls, and blatantly gerrymandering districts, so that career politicians can guarantee their own re-election — all an affront on our democratic process and the voice of the American people.

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We cannot sit idly by as these unwarranted attacks on our democratic republic carry on. We must start protecting our country from foreign meddling by investing in a nationwide strengthening of our cybersecurity and election security to ensure the safety and integrity of every American’s vote. Then, within our own democratic body, we need to implement non-partisan and non- discriminatory independent redistricting commissions that prevent the disenfranchisement of voters and protect everyone's voice in our democracy.

We are blessed to live in the United States of America and enjoy freedoms other counties dream of thanks to our democratic institutions and free elections, but it is incumbent upon us to protect them as well as honor them by voting.

Francis Conole

Syracuse

Francis Conole is a candidate for Congress in New York’s 24th District.

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