Tens of Thousands of Veterans, Family Members Sign Up to Work the Polls This Election Season

ROTC cadet Alyssa Skorich sanitizes a voting station at the Anthony Stratton Building in Lawrenceburg, Ky.
ROTC cadet Alyssa Skorich sanitizes a voting station at the Anthony Stratton Building in Lawrenceburg, Ky., June 12, 2020. (Capt. Cassandra Mullins/133rd Mobile Public Affairs Detachment photo)

With a week to the Nov. 8 midterm elections, retired Marine Lt. Col. Joe Plenzler is doing his part to ensure that the vote count is done securely, accurately and fairly.

Plenzler volunteered to be an election judge in Charles County, Maryland. Having completed the training, he said the level of instruction gave him immense confidence in the system -- assurance he hopes that he and other poll workers can share with voters on Election Day.

"It felt like we were launching nuclear missiles or opening up a [sensitive compartmented information facility] -- the two-party integrity, the amount of the tamper-proof tape and the codes and the locks. ... I walked out of that room saying, 'Somebody's really thought through the process,'" Plenzler said.

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Plenzler and his wife, also a retired Marine lieutenant colonel, signed up to work the polls as part of a campaign by Vet the Vote, a group that seeks to encourage American veterans to work as elections officials, meeting the needs of locations with staff shortages but also bolstering faith in the election process.

"Working the polls, it was good to see it all put into play and understand the mechanisms behind it," said Plenzler, who also serves as a spokesman for Vet the Vote.

The past few election cycles have been marked by disinformation and allegations of fraud that have sought to undermine the election process in the country -- a loss of faith that groups like Vet the Vote hope to restore by encouraging active-duty and former troops to serve.

Vet the Vote launched an initiative in June to recruit 100,000 veterans to work the election this year, and as of Oct. 7, it had registered 63,000 service members, veterans and family members through its website, according to Anil Nathan, co-executive director of Vet the Vote.

"We're incredibly proud of that accomplishment, both from a coalition standpoint, as well as seeing our community respond so strongly to their country asking them to step up and serve again," said Nathan, an Air Force veteran.

According to Vet the Vote, states with the largest populations of veterans have, unsurprisingly, had the most number of veterans and veteran family members respond to the call, with Texas leading the way at 7,581 new veteran volunteers.

Florida, California, Georgia and North Carolina round out the top five.

Vote the Vets set the ambitious number to recruit 100,000 poll workers, because that is the estimated figure of shortages nationwide each year, according to Ingrid Sundlee, director of civic engagement for the organization.

The goal was not only to address that shortage but also tap into the vast resource of Americans who already have a sense of purpose and want to support democracy.

"Show me another place in American society where you have Republicans, Democrats and independents coming together to do something productive for the country," Plenzler said. "Working at the level of civics instead of politics in today's hyperpartisan tribal environment is extremely refreshing to me personally."

As Election Day approaches, political parties also have pressed Americans to volunteer as poll monitors -- including veterans -- to observe voting and lodge complaints if they see anything amiss in states where it is permitted.

Poll monitors differ from poll workers in that they are observers, not part of the process to support the voting process and count ballots.

The push, especially among supporters of former President Donald Trump who continue to perpetuate allegations of voter fraud in the 2020 election despite there being no evidence of widespread malfeasance, has raised concerns by election officials in some states about voter safety and possible intimidation.

Vet the Vote officials acknowledged that the political parties have worked to recruit veterans but stressed that its initiative is purely to restore faith in the voting process.

"We have been so explicitly by nature nonpartisan about our efforts. Even though there may be some bleed-over in terms of talking about recruiting veterans, that line is drawn pretty clear in terms of our objectives," Nathan said.

-- Patricia Kime can be reached at Patricia.Kime@Monster.com. Follow her on Twitter @patriciakime

Related: Meet the Vets Running for Congress, the Largest Group of Candidates Who Served in a Decade

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