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This past week marked the one-year anniversary of insurrection of Jan. 6, 2021. When I wore the uniform and took an oath to protect our country, I did so to defend American values at home and abroad. What happened at our nation’s Capital on Jan. 6 will remain a stain on our republic’s history for centuries to come. To honor those we lost on Jan. 6 and the days that followed, and the lives of those who swore to defend our country and its values, it’s time for Washington to get its priorities straight.

And that starts with restoring our foundational democratic right: the right to vote. If we are to truly honor the Americans in uniform who made the ultimate sacrifice to defend our freedoms, our leaders will make passage of the Freedom to Vote Act their absolute top priority.

Our armed forces prove every day that we are the “home of the brave.” It’s about time we truly lived up to our promise as the “land of the free.”

As a veteran, not a politician, I believe that putting country first is the cornerstone of service. Defending the rights that countless Americans fought and died for should always supersede partisan politics; and no issue is more fundamental to wellbeing of American democracy than the right to vote.

Unfortunately, the hyper partisanship we witnessed leading up to and on Jan. 6 continues to cloud the judgement of some politicians. Misinformation and disproven claims about voter fraud have been weaponized for the Republican party’s political gain over the past 14 months.

Extremism on both sides of the aisle and gerrymandered new congressional maps have pushed voters and leaders alike into their respective corners. While some partisans have shown they are unwilling to come to the negotiating table to do what’s needed to protect our democracy, West Virginians and veterans across the country are relying on Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., to finish the job on much-needed democracy protections in 2022.

I saw Manchin’s leadership up close when I served as Adjutant General. I know that what sets Manchin apart from his colleagues is his middle-of-the-road approach to legislating. He knows he represents all West Virginians, not just a political party. As extremes continue to grow on both sides of the political spectrum, that legislative philosophy is needed now more than ever.

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The Freedom to Vote Act rises above the partisan politics of the day and brings West Virginia values to Washington. Manchin’s compromise election integrity bill is the only legislation on the table poised to combat both foreign interference and state-level attacks on our elections.

Much like Manchin, I believe our democracy is worth fighting for. I know he can rise above the noise and get this important piece of legislation passed.

Cracking down on corruption, modernizing election security standards for electronic machines and making sure politicians cannot overturn election results simply because they are unfavorable to the powers that be are not controversial policies. Veterans who put their life on the line to fight for these American values overseas should be assured their rights will be defended at home.

Moreover, the legislation is common sense. Many of the practical policies included in the Freedom to Vote Act compromise are already law in West Virginia, including a guaranteed early voting period that ensures all Americans – including wounded veterans and others who may have trouble making it to the polls on Election Day — can vote. Beyond that, the legislation puts an end to partisan gerrymandering, makes Election Day a federal holiday and strengthens mail-in ballot protections for those serving in the military and voting overseas.

The bottom line is this: basic election security standards like these are needed to protect Americans’ voice and vote at the ballot box. I stand with Manchin and West Virginian voters in their calls for action to strengthen the integrity of American electoral processes and our democracy.

It’s time for Washington politicians to put democracy first, honor our American heroes, and pass the Freedom to Vote Act.

Gen. Allen Tackett lives in Kanawha County and was adjutant general for the West Virginia National Guard.

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