America Needs Vets to Serve Again, This Time as Volunteer Poll Workers

Naval Air Station (NAS) Sigonella Voting Assistance Officer Lt. j.g. Timothy Martin
Naval Air Station (NAS) Sigonella Voting Assistance Officer Lt. j.g. Timothy Martin sets up a voting booth onboard NAS Sigonella, Sept. 24, 2020. (Triniti Lersch/U.S. Navy)

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American democracy runs on elections, and elections run on volunteers. Every year, local county election boards across America must recruit more than a million citizen volunteers to administer polling sites.

The COVID-19 pandemic sharply cut the number of volunteers from the traditional 60-and-older cohort. Today, we have a critical national shortage of election workers, creating barriers that could prevent some American citizens from exercising their right to vote.

The shortage of volunteer poll workers has already negatively impacted our election system. Over the past few years, American communities have seen a drastic reduction in the number of polling locations and longer lines and wait times. In 2020, the situation was so dire that Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers activated his state's National Guard to assist as poll workers in 40 counties during the state's primary elections. New Jersey did the same that year and sent 120 soldiers in civilian clothes to assist -- a first in state history. In early 2022, several voting locations in Texas were unable to open due to a lack of volunteers. There are similar stories from New York to Los Angeles and in just about every state in the nation.

Despite that, because of the systems and norms and, most importantly, the incredible efforts of the cadre of American citizen volunteers, 2020 was the most secure election in our history.

Military veterans and their family members are ideal candidates to help solve this critical challenge to our democracy. While in uniform, we came from all corners of the nation -- from every class and creed -- and put aside our differences, joining together to serve our democracy. A recent 2021 study by The Mission Continues, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, and National Conference on Citizenship found that veterans are "more likely than non-military civilians to volunteer in their communities" and also more likely to vote.

Veterans are used to working together in teams, following orders and regulations, and tend to be exceptionally security-minded. We can think of no better, more trusted group within the American public to step up and fill this critical shortage and create a new civic tradition in the veteran and military family community.

To this end, we've launched Vet the Vote, a national campaign to recruit 100,000 veterans and military family members to serve as the next generation of poll workers, starting with the 2022 midterm elections. We invite and encourage America's 17+ million veterans and their families to serve their country once again by defending democracy but through a new mission. By doing so, they will serve our democracy in a very personal and meaningful way, help ensure the safety, security and efficiency of our elections, and demonstrate the pride veterans and military families have for our country.

Gen. George W. Casey Jr. is the 36th chief of staff of the U.S. Army. Retiring in 2011, he lectures on international relations at the Korbel School, University of Denver, and serves on several corporate boards and numerous boards of organizations that support our servicemen and women, our veterans and their families.

Ellen Gustafson is a co-founder and co-executive director of We the Veterans -- a pro-democracy, nonpartisan, nonprofit organization created by veterans and military family members to empower the veteran and military family community to strengthen American democracy. Gustafson is a proud Navy spouse and a co-founder of the Military Family Building Coalition, the first nonprofit supporting active duty military in building their families, as well as previously co-founding FEED, Food Tank and co-directing the Summit Institute.

Anil Nathan is a co-founder and co-executive director of We the Veterans. He is a first-generation American and second-generation Air Force veteran, following his father who was drafted during the Vietnam War after emigrating from India.

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