Organizers behind the new VetTheVote initiative want to get more veterans involved in American elections.
Not politics — just the elections.
At a time when major political parties are recruiting veterans to run in upcoming state and federal contests across the country, the new advocacy group is asking former service members to also consider working as election officials, helping to make sure votes in all of those critical races are cast and counted properly.
“Elections run on people that raise their hand [and serve as] poll workers who give you the pens that you need, check your IDs, make sure that people’s election signs are 40 feet from the door of the polling place,” said Ellen Gustafson, co-executive director of the initiative.
“All of those incredibly important jobs need to be done by citizens. And what better group of citizens than veterans and military family members who have already proven their commitment to stand up and protect our democracy?”
State election officials report that about 130,000 poll workers have stepped down from those posts over the last 12 years, in large part because of age and coronavirus concerns. About 60% of the current poll workers registered across America are 61 or older, and 25% are 70 or older.
VetTheVote officials said they expect a “looming poll worker crisis” for the 2022 midterm elections and beyond. That in turn creates potential challenges in conducting basic election work, like keeping poll locations open long enough for all voters to cast their ballots.
“It just seems clear to me that a smart, diverse, trusted and committed group of men and women who have already had the courage to serve their country in difficult times … would be just the kind of people to oversee a disciplined election process and help restore a level of confidence to our electoral system,” said former Army Chief of Staff Gen. George Casey at the group’s launch event on Tuesday.
VetTheVote is partnering with 15 veterans organizations — including groups like Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, Student Veterans of America, the National Military Family Association and the Military Officers Association of America — as well as other civic groups and the National Football League’s “NFL Votes” initiative.
Supporters say the effort can solve two problems simultaneously: the need for help running local elections, and the need to give veterans and military family members a way to continue to serve their communities. Past studies have shown that younger veterans in particular can face anxiety and depression after separating from military service, and that finding ways to connect to their communities can prove critical in their transition.
Group officials will work with partners in coming months to raise awareness and begin connecting volunteers with local election officials.
Gustafson said nationwide about 100,000 new poll workers are needed, in some states more than others. Officials in Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, Georgia, Arizona, Nevada — all potential swing states in the 2024 presidential election — have reported significant shortages in their staffing.
“This is 100% purely a pro-democracy effort,” said Anil Nathan, VetTheVote’s other co-executive director. “It has zero connection or affiliation to any level of partisanship.
“This is purely a means to support and strengthen the electoral process, because we know that without poll workers, there are a lot of consequences: election site delays, closures, bad outcomes when people are not able to exercise their right to vote freely and fairly.”
Typically poll worker posts pay a nominal sum and require some advanced training on non-partisan requirements and logistical issues.
More information on the effort and how to sign up to be a poll worker can be found at the group’s web site.
Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.