A block of military, veterans and civic groups have joined forces to address a nationwide shortage of election volunteers ahead of the November vote, encouraging military family members and veterans to step up.
The Vet The Vote coalition, spearheaded by the nonpartisan group We the Veterans, wants 100,000 former service members and military dependents to serve at polling places this fall.
Organizers said Tuesday during a press conference marking the launch of the initiative that the veteran and military community is a trusted source of volunteers who can help set an example by working the polls and expressing faith in the nation's election system.
"Our mission is to empower the 17 million-plus veterans and millions more military family members to strengthen American democracy by reducing the impact of mis-, dis-, and malinformation, countering anti-democratic forces and increasing positive civic engagement," said Anil Nathan, co-executive director of We the Veterans.
Across the country, election officials have reported a shortage of poll workers to staff polling sites, resulting in the closure of some locations during primary elections, including Texas in March and Chicago on Tuesday.
The shortages have been attributed to retirement as well as concerns over the COVID-19 pandemic. According to state officials, roughly 130,000 poll workers have left their posts in the past dozen years as they age. Roughly 60% of poll workers registered in the U.S. are 61 or older.
Workers at some locations, especially those where ballots were challenged in the 2020 election, also have cited intimidation and fear as factors for not returning to the job.
Vet The Vote's goal is to get more volunteers at polls nationwide to prevent poll closures resulting from worker shortages. But the initiative will focus hardest on states in desperate need, including six with acute shortages such as Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, Georgia, Nevada and Arizona, according to Ellen Gustafson, a We the Veterans cofounder.
"What we know is that veterans and our community are really well-dispersed across the country, and we are hoping that by doing a national push, we can engage as many veterans as possible," she said. "But then if we do need to get more local in terms of areas where the need is exceptionally great, we hope that through incredible partner organizations, we can target some of those communities."
Former Army Chief of Staff Gen. George Casey, now retired, volunteered in April as a poll worker in Arlington, Virginia. He said that as a soldier who helped organize elections in Bosnia and Kosovo, he learned about the work that goes into guaranteeing that they be "free and fair," adding that it is "something we should never take for granted as a country."
Noting the pool of young veterans, the population's diversity and its dedication and service as an all-volunteer force, Casey called the military one of the most trusted groups in society.
"I put it all together, and these are just the kind of people that can contribute greatly to overseeing a disciplined election process and help restore a level of confidence to our electoral system," Casey said.
The push to have veterans and military family members work the polls comes amid efforts by states, localities, political parties and organizations to fill spots vacated by long-standing volunteers, mostly older retirees, who quit during the coronavirus pandemic.
But worker intimidation also has kept volunteers away. Shaye Moss, a Georgia poll worker who testified this nth before the House Jan. 6 committee, said she and her grandmother, also a poll worker, received death threats and were targeted by Donald Trump supporters following the Nov. 3, 2020, vote count.
According to Moss, none of the permanent coworkers or supervisors at the vote counting site where she worked that day has returned to their jobs.
Vet The Vote officials say the time has come for veterans and military families to help restore faith in the election process, regardless of political ideology or belief. By bringing in poll workers who already have served their country honorably, with different backgrounds and upbringings, they can "support and strengthen the electoral process," Nathan said.
"This has zero connection or affiliation to any level of partisanship," Nathan said. "We know that without poll workers, there are a lot of consequences for election site delays and closures, which are ultimately -- regardless of who you support from a political perspective -- a bad outcome when people are not able to exercise their freedom to exercise their right to vote freely and fairly."
Groups supporting the Vet the Vote initiative include Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, the National Military Family Association, the Military Officers Association of America and Student Veterans of America.
In addition to public outreach, the Vet The Vote campaign will recruit workers through the web-based Power the Polls, a tool where potential volunteers and workers can go to sign up to support their polling place.
Poll workers and supervisors check identification cards, distribute ballots, oversee counts, provide stickers and pens and do just about anything else at a polling station on Election Day.
Gustafson said these seemingly menial tasks make democracy tick and elections couldn't be held without volunteers, many of whom actually receive pay for a day of training and work.
"Being a military spouse, I learned that if every single person in the military doesn't do their job, the mission does not get accomplished. [On Election Day], it is actually those menial tasks, handing people the blue or black ink pen, checking those IDs, making sure people now are standing at a social distance that makes our elections function," Gustafson said.
More information on Vet The Vote can be found at the initiative's website.
Editor's Note: Due to a transcription error a previous version of this article quoted Anil Nathan as saying that the Vet the Vote initiative would combat "mistakes and malinformation" rather than "mis-, dis-, and malinformation." The Article has been updated accordingly.
-- Patricia Kime can be reached at Patricia.Kime@Military.com. Follow her on Twitter @patriciakime