Last month’s long-delayed parliamentary elections in Afghanistan were chaotic and dangerous.  A suicide bomber blew himself up at a polling place in a northern Kabul neighborhood, killing three people and wounding as many as 20 others. Hundreds of polling places did not open on time or at all, and in some places people waited in line for hours to vote.

Democracy may never take root in Afghanistan, yet millions of people still want the opportunity to vote.  One of the witnesses to the elections was National Guardsman Major Brent Taylor of North Ogden, Utah.  “It was beautiful to see over 4-million Afghan men and women brave the threats and deadly attacks to vote in Afghanistan’s first parliamentary elections in eight years,” he wrote in a Facebook post.

Major Brent Taylor

“The strong turnout despite the attacks and challenges was a success for the long-suffering people of Afghanistan and for the cause of human freedom,” Taylor said.

That was Taylor’s final post.  He was killed just days later in an “insider attack” in Kabul when a member of the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces opened fire.

Taylor was a civic leader as well as a soldier.  Taylor, who was married and the father of seven children, was elected to the North Ogden City Council in 2009 and became mayor in 2013.   He took a leave of absence from his mayor’s responsibilities to deploy for his fourth tour of duty in Afghanistan.

In his final Facebook post, Taylor reflected on the upcoming elections back home. “As the USA gets ready to vote in our own election, I hope everyone back home exercises their precious right to vote,” he wrote.  “And whether the Republicans or the Democrats win, that we all remember that we have far more as Americans that unites us than divides us.  ‘United we stand, divided we fall.’ God Bless America.”

It’s easy to be cynical about politics and elections.  We may be turned off by negative ads. We may distrust politicians. We may believe that our votes don’t matter.  But none of that trumps our civic responsibility.

Campaigns tend to focus on division—the things that separate candidates and political parties. But as Major Taylor reminded us, as Americans we also have many commonalities, and one of those is a shared desire for a representative government.

Elections here, unlike Afghanistan, are safe and secure.  Major Taylor’s inspiring words just before his death serve as a poignant reminder that voting is not just about choosing one candidate over another; it’s also about bearing at least some of the burden necessary to protect freedom and perpetuate democracy.

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