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We often hear a great deal of conversation about our rights as American citizens.
Turn on any news channel, and you'll hear pundits exhausting themselves vigorously discussing everything from our freedom of speech to freedom of religion to our right to keep and bear arms and more.
But with this robust conversation about our rights, what's missing is a commensurate conversation about our responsibilities as citizens.
Every veteran who's ever served in our nation's military once took an oath to support and defend the Constitution -- an oath that the vast majority of us took very seriously.
Many consider that oath to remain in effect even after we take off the uniform for the last time and transition to the civilian world.
A fundamental American right enshrined in the Constitution is our right to vote -- to choose the members of the executive branch of government, decide who will fill our legislatures and create our laws, and determine who will administer justice sitting behind the benches in our courts.
Generations of American servicemen and women, supported by their families at home, have shed their blood on foreign battlefields to defend that fundamental right.
While every veteran can stand proud of their service in the defense of our nation, we each have a crucial role in championing democracy here at home.
We often say that freedom isn't free. That's true. And democracy isn't free either.
While state and county election officials administer our electoral system, hundreds of thousands of volunteers who serve as election poll workers put it into practice every election.
These patriotic men and women are the unsung heroes of our democracy.
They wake up before dawn each election; gather in community centers, schools and fire station halls; and set up election polling stations.
When they open the doors, they welcome voters, ensure they are eligible to vote, provide instructions and assistance, and count every ballot.
They also ensure all election rules are followed and provide two-person integrity around every ballot counting machine.
And they stay late into the night to ensure proper tabulation of votes, pack up the voting booths and ballot counting machines, and report the results to their local board of elections.
These patriotic Americans, most of whom are over the age of 60, are the backbone of our democracy. Without them, there would be no elections.
And here's the problem: Election officials struggle to find enough volunteers to appropriately staff polling stations every year.
The COVID-19 pandemic and threats of political violence in recent elections have significantly diminished volunteerism, especially among our oldest election poll workers.
In June 2022, We the Veterans and Military Families assembled a coalition of more than 30 veteran and civic groups, in partnership with the National Football League, to spearhead a nationwide public awareness and recruitment campaign called Vet the Vote to close the gap on America's deficit of 130,000 election poll workers.
By November, more than 63,500 veterans and their families answered the call to serve once more in response to this crisis.
Because of their selfless service and dedication to our democracy, more communities had fully staffed election polling sites, and more American voters exercised their right to vote.
This past June, we launched Vet the Vote 2024 to establish the new norm of broad veteran and military family member participation as election poll workers.
The need for election volunteers is ever-present, and we encourage every veteran and their family members to contact their county board of elections and volunteer to be a poll worker --because if not you, then who will answer the call? If not now, then when?
American democracy remains a beacon for the rest of the world, and it is our duty to uphold it. One of the best ways to do this is by volunteering to be an election poll worker.
We invite you to uphold your oath and support and defend our Constitution again. Find out more at www.VetThe.Vote.
-- Joe Plenzler, Marine Corps veteran and board member, We the Veterans
-- Ellen Gustafson, Navy family member and executive director, We the Veterans
-- Jeremy Butler, Navy veteran and chief growth officer, We the Veterans
-- Ben Keiser, Marine Corps veteran and executive chairman, We the Veterans
-- Luke Baumgartner, Army veteran and program manager, We the Veterans
-- Ingrid Sundlee, Army family member and chief of staff, We the Veterans
-- Anil Nathan, Air Force veteran and board chair, We the Veterans
We the Veterans and Military Families is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization created by veterans and military family members, working to support democracy in America. In 2022, it launched Vet the Vote, a national campaign to recruit veterans and military family members to serve as the next generation of poll workers.