How service in Afghanistan reminded me that voting is awesome

With the exception of the 2nd Congressional District, the election is now over in Maine. Plenty has been — and will be — written about the “meaning” of the results.

But whatever meaning people derive from the results, we are about to witness one of the most miraculous aspects of American democracy: a peaceful transition of power.

Gov.-elect Janet Mills made no bones about her areas of disagreement with Gov. Paul LePage. Yet, in a couple months, she will take the oath of office and succeed him as Maine’s elected chief executive.

It is an example to the world, and particularly those countries with young democracies and war-torn histories. Countries like Afghanistan.

While it made the news, the chaos and passion in the last few days of the election overshadowed the story of Maj. Brent Taylor. An intelligence office in the Utah National Guard, he was also the mayor of North Ogden. He was on his fourth deployment and serving as an adviser and trainer to Afghan special forces in Kabul. And, on Saturday, he was killed in a “green-on-blue” incident by a terrorist posing as a member of the Afghan Army.

Several weeks earlier, Afghan Gen. Abdul Raziq was also killed in an insider attack. He was one of the major personalities leading anti-Taliban operations in Kandahar province. His approach had been criticized as extra-judicial and possibly violative of human rights; he probably did bad things with good intent. Yet, for better or worse, he was a stabilizing presence and a bulwark in defense of the national government. The country was preparing to hold their version of midterm elections, with polls in Kandahar opening Oct. 27.

A woman voter gets her finger scanned before casting her vote during parliamentary elections in Kandahar, Afghanistan, on Oct. 27. Security was tight as voters went to the polls after an attack by an elite guard killed two top government officials. (AP Photo)

These two deaths hit home for me. I actually worked with Raziq — albeit briefly — when I was in Afghanistan. Why? Because, like Taylor, I was assigned as an adviser and trainer to the Afghan National Police. My deployment ended shortly after the first round of presidential elections held on April 5, 2014.

Watching Afghans vote was an awesome sight. Not awesome like a surfer dude, but rather awesome like standing atop Cadillac Mountain at sunrise. Awe-inspiring. These men and women literally braved bombs and rockets to exercise their relatively newfound right. A right made available by Americans like Taylor and protected by Raziq.

One of the individuals with whom he worked in Afghanistan was Maj. Abdul Rahman Rahmani. Rahmani wrote a letter to Mrs. Taylor expressing condolences for Brent’s death. He “pledged to continue to work hard until the end, the day when peace will return to” Afghanistan “and violence and hatred no longer claim the lives of both our countrymen.”

It is fitting that Veterans Day comes shortly after Election Day. The team sport nature of politics causes us to separate ourselves from each other to align with our chosen teammates. We cheer for the red side or the blue crew, hoping our favored players run up the score to claim victory. But, once the polls close and the ballots are counted, we revert to a much simpler — and much broader — label: American.

Taylor knew that. In his final public Facebook post, he wrote:

“It was beautiful to see over 4 million Afghan men and women brave threats and deadly attacks to vote in Afghanistan’s first parliamentary elections in eight years. Many American, NATO allies, and Afghan troops have died to make moments like this possible.

“As the USA gets ready to vote in our own election next week, I hope everyone back home exercises their precious right to vote. And that whether the Republicans or the Democrats win, that we all remember that we have far more as Americans that unites us than divides us.”

So, if you’re looking for meaning in Tuesday’s results, there’s plenty to be had. And it’s simpler than you think.

Michael Cianchette

About Michael Cianchette

Michael Cianchette was the chief counsel to Gov. Paul LePage from 2012-2013 and deputy counsel from 2011-2012. A Navy reservist, he was deployed to Afghanistan from 2013-2014 as a trainer and adviser to the Afghan National Police. He is an alumnus of the Leadership Maine program and holds a BA in economics and political science from Boston College along with a JD and an MBA from Suffolk University. He works as in-house counsel and financial manager for a number of affiliated companies in southern Maine.