Opinion

Why helping others vote is a patriotic duty that appeals to US military veterans

Our nation faces a critical shortfall of volunteers to administer our elections and veterans can help close that gap. 
Joe Plenzler Avatar
Master Sgt. Blayne Ralston, right, 66th Group Staff Agency first sergeant, speaks with Tracey Hall, installation voting program manager, and Michael Glover, Airman and Family Readiness Center causality assistance representative, during an Armed Forces Voting Week event at Hanscom Air Force Base, Massachusetts. (Todd Maki/U.S. Air Force)

I spent 20 years in the Marine Corps, deployed to two wars, received a medal for valor, and the most patriotic thing I have ever done has been to serve as an election poll worker.

Our nation faces a critical shortfall of volunteers to administer our elections. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has put a real dent in election poll volunteerism — especially among Americans 60 years of age and older who have traditionally served as poll workers. In fact, nearly two-thirds of all election poll workers are older than 61 years of age. The pandemic, combined with news reports of election-related political violence and threats to election officials, has made it difficult for many county election boards to find enough people to run election polling sites.

Why should you care? Simply put, American democracy runs on elections, and elections run on volunteers — just like our military and our national defense rely on volunteers.

Since our republic runs on a decentralized and federalized election system, it’s up to the individual states and counties to run elections, maintain voter records, count ballots, and report results.

When secretaries of state and county boards of elections can’t find enough volunteers to serve as election officials, it results in fewer polling stations, longer lines, fewer early voting days, and ultimately, less of an opportunity for you and your fellow citizens to enjoy the rights we all served in uniform to defend — primarily our right to vote. When there aren’t enough election workers, we have less democracy.

So what can you do about it? The solution is simple: Volunteer to serve your country and community again as an election poll worker.

I’ll give you 10 good reasons why you should:

  1. There are more than 17 million veterans in the United States. Each year, America has to recruit more than 1.3 million volunteers to run our elections. If just 10 percent of us volunteered, this national crisis would evaporate overnight. Adding in our family members — who could also volunteer — expands the recruitable population greatly.
  2. Veterans are one of the most trusted groups in American society. Currently, a significant number of our fellow citizens are very skeptical of our election results. When Americans doubt the safety and security of our elections, everybody loses and our nation’s enemies celebrate. Americans know military veterans take rules and regulations seriously and visibly serving in the polls will strengthen public faith in our system.
  3. We’re tough. Serving as a poll worker in many states means an early start and late finish. It’s a long, full day. Veterans know what it means to work hard and have the endurance to work long hours days on end.
  4. We’re not easily intimidated. Political violence and mass shootings have been getting a lot of attention in the press lately, dampening election volunteerism. Veterans know how important our democracy is and what it means to defend it. When other poll workers know veterans are working alongside them, it gives them confidence.
  5. We’re geographically distributed. Veterans live and work in every community in the United States. We’re “deployed” everywhere.
  6. Witnessing democracy in action is a powerful thing. For most of my adult life, I voted by military absentee ballot and didn’t vote in person until 2016. Going to the polls and seeing my fellow citizens’ vote put tears in my eyes and a lump in my throat. It’s a special feeling.
  7. Making democracy happen is personally fulfilling. Following the example of my wife, who is a retired Marine Corps officer and election judge, I volunteered to be an election judge in my county. Serving as a poll worker in this capacity allowed me the opportunity to enable my fellow citizens to exercise their right to vote.
  8. Closing the military-civilian divide. Many vets complain that civilians don’t understand them or their experiences and then do nothing to address that feeling. Volunteering alongside fellow civilians is a great way to break down barriers and engage on a personal level. 
  9. Community connectivity. I moved eight times in the military in 20 years and never really felt like I had a home. By volunteering as a poll worker in my community, I got to work in community spaces I would have never visited and met people I would never have otherwise encountered.
  10. It’s the right thing to do. Our nation’s communities have a pressing need for election poll workers and volunteering is a great way for veterans to serve our nation again. Plus, many counties reimburse you for your time with a small stipend. Democracy and beer money! Bonus!

So, please, consider volunteering today. You can find out how you can sign up at www.VetThe.Vote

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Lt. Col. Joe Plenzler (Ret.) is a U.S. Marine Corps combat veteran and advocate for democracy.