Fair Elections Are The Underpinning Of A Free Society: Retired Marine Reserve Colonel

 Authored by Beth Brelje via The Epoch Times,

Election integrity was paramount on Jan. 30, 2005, when Iraq held its first free election in years to choose an entirely new National Assembly. Retired Marine Reserve Colonel Frank Ryan, today a Republican state representative in the Pennsylvania House, had been called out of retirement and was responsible for pulling together election security with the interim Iraqi government.

It was important that voting was simple for citizens and that they had confidence in the results.

People waiting to vote in Baghdad, Iraq, in 2005.
People waiting to vote in Baghdad, Iraq, in 2005. (Frank Ryan)

Ryan was one of the few Americans permitted at Iraqi polling places. He attended the Iraqi government meeting when they were counting the ballots that election night.

“They did a tremendous job of making sure that they had a bipartisan group of people monitoring the counting of the ballots,” Ryan said.

“And by the way, we got the electoral results done the same day. Just saying.”

In the end, some people were disappointed their candidate didn’t win, but there were not accusations of fraud, Ryan said, because the election had a robust system of controls.

“We worked with the Deputy Minister of National Security, and the Multinational Force Iraq, to make sure that we had all the polling places covered,” Ryan told The Epoch Times.

“We had the rules of engagement relative to the counting of the ballots. We had tremendous security of all the ballots. We knew how many were issued at the polling places. We had complete control. And then obviously, the ultimate control was the dye on the finger to determine that you’ve already voted.”

Frank Ryan in Baghdad, Iraq, in 2005.
Frank Ryan in Baghdad, Iraq, in 2005. (Frank Ryan)

Voting was risky. The insurgency, al-Qaeda, said they were going to kill anyone who voted. There was no mail-in balloting, yet nearly 75 percent of Iraqis showed up in person to vote.

Each voter dipped their finger in purple ink, a stain to prevent people from voting twice. A group of women in their 70s stood together, Ryan recalls, and they held their ink-stained index fingers up. “They were showing that they weren’t going to be intimidated.”

The night before the election, a rocket hit the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, killing two Americans who worked there and wounding five others.

“One of the deputy ministers in national security called me up the morning of the election, and he was crying. I said, ‘Are you OK?’ and he said, ‘Today, my mother voted freely for the first time in her life. I wanted you to thank the American people for the sacrifices that they’ve done for the Iraqi people so that we can be free. And please tell those families that their children did not die in vain.’ And I started to cry, to think it meant that much to him.”

The dye on their hands was not going to come off in a day, Ryan said. It was going to be there for a while.

“They knew they could be executed for it, and they didn’t care. Voting meant that much to them.”

The privilege of voting and trust in the results cannot be taken for granted.

“The entire framework of our nation as a republic is based upon trust that people have in the system, that the elections are fair and secure,” Ryan said.

Leaving Office to Get Things Done

As a state representative, Ryan, who is also a certified public accountant, has worked on legislation to improve election controls and build voter trust. With Republican Rep. Seth Grove, he worked on Pennsylvania House Bill 1300 in 2021, an election reform bill vetoed by Democrat Gov. Tom Wolf.

This year, Ryan announced his retirement at the end of his term in December. But he is not done working on election security.

“I think I can have a bigger impact on public policy outside of the legislature, than from within it,” Ryan said, adding that it is a sad truth that it is hard for legislators to get things done.

“I intend to work specifically on election security and internal controls, and the elimination of property taxes for schools.”

Ryan believes he can better mobilize public support around these issues as a private citizen.

“Even the Democrats I’ve talked to want safe and secure elections,” Ryan said.

Democrats and Republicans want to get this fixed, but sometimes they get pressure from their leadership who are being leaned on by outside influences or special interest groups.” Ryan is writing a book about this issue. “It’s going to be about how special interest groups control the agenda in Harrisburg and in D.C.”

When he thinks about election reform, Ryan looks at issues through the lens of his accounting experience.

He would like to see reconciliation by the precinct, comparing the number of voters to the number of ballots cast, and details defining each extra ballot.

It is expected that every county will have a surplus, Ryan explained. If a voter makes a mistake, their ballot is voided, and they are given a new one. Now that voter accounts for two ballots. This should be tracked. The legislation Wolf vetoed called for this and other types of audit mechanisms. Each county handles elections a little differently, he says, and there should be some uniform guidelines for how things are done. He also believes voters should be required to show identification.

“There are too many flaws in the processes,” Ryan said.

“If the elections are not close, everybody’s got full faith and confidence in those results. Like there’s no doubt in my mind that Fetterman won. I’m not happy about it. People didn’t ask me if I was happy about the results. But I do believe they were accurate. But if you were to tell me the race was within 20,000 votes, I wouldn’t be able to make that same assertion.”

That is why election security processes must be reformed, he said.

“I accept the results because I believe that it was the will of the people,” Ryan said. “And that’s my responsibility, to make sure that the election systems accurately reflect the will of the people. That’s the constitutional provisions that I swore to uphold when I became a United States Marine on Dec. 18, 1969.”

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