Courtesy of Joe Plenzler
Ellen Gustafson knows the country is polarized and the rhetoric is hot. But in its politically diverse community of veterans and military spouses, that doesn’t matter.
“Military spouses that I follow on Instagram…there’s a lot of things that people say I wouldn’t agree with politically,” she said, “But I’ll tell you, they’re my most great source of support. He’s not my enemy, for God’s sake. He’s the person I call when I need someone to pick up my child.
As threats against election officials dialed one already critical shortage of volunteers, Gustafson decided his community of veterans was ideal to help out. Last summer, she co-founded Vet the Vote, a campaign to recruit veterans and military families to serve again — at the polls. She thinks military veterans have a lot of experience in one key area: following rules and procedures.
“The military and voting are two examples of where the bureaucracy is pretty awesome,she said. “You know, like when you have way too many people working in a big institution to do their very specific jobs, it’s kind of great for voting and keeping Navy ships afloat.”
So far, the group has recruited more than 63,000 volunteers across the country.
Veterans signed up for many reasons. Andrew Turner, an Iraqi vet from Michigan, says it was the conspiracy kidnap his governorGretchen Whitmer.
“It’s scary,” he said. “Seeing Governor Whitmer being the target of a kidnapping and then with January 6th and everything, it really disturbed me because I see something that I didn’t think would happen here in the United States. “
Turner has seen political violence abroad and wants to do everything he can to shore up democracy at home.
In Northern California, Donnie Hasseltine agrees. He served as a sailor for 22 years.
“From someone who was in Iraq during the Iraqi elections, it’s hard to think that you’re coming back to the United States and you don’t have an election worker because someone is threatening one of these election officials. And it made me think that, hey, I have no problem handling this. And maybe there’s another way I can continue my service and give back to my country,” said said Hasseltine, adding that if there was some sort of altercation at his polling place, a combat veteran like him might feel more confident to broadcast it.
Some of Vet the Vote’s volunteers have participated in primary elections before, and many say the checks and balances have given them more confidence in the system.
Courtesy of Joe Plenzler
“It was like we were launching nuclear missiles or opening up a SCIF (sensitive compartmented information facility),” said Joe Plenzler, retired Marine Lt. Col. and spokesman for Vet the Vote.
“The bipartisan integrity, the amount of tamper-proof tape, the codes and the locks. I was a born skeptic, and I came out of this with an incredible level of confidence in my county’s ability to run an election,” a he said.
And working alongside veterans of different political persuasions was also encouraging, says Jerri Bell, who served in naval intelligence for 20 years. She has already worked an election, in 2020, near her home in Calvert County, Maryland.
“The election administrator pairs a Republican with a Democrat. And my partner from the other political party and I kind of looked at each other sideways for about 30 seconds and then we started processing the ballots and it didn’t didn’t matter,” she said. . “We just had a job to do and it was truly the most non-partisan thing I’ve done since leaving the Navy. And it was a pleasure.”
Some veterans have joined the campaign because they themselves have questions about the process.
William Doyle served in the Navy from 2002 to 2017 and deployed on the aircraft carriers USS Ronald Reagan and USS George HW Bush. But Doyle says he never voted for president until he left the military.
“I didn’t want to have an opinion one way or the other on the commander-in-chief. You know, bias if my party that I voted for wasn’t elected,” Doyle said.
Since the 2020 election, he has seen news reports and a documentary on voter fraud that left him perplexed.
“I’d like to believe that our democracy is protected and the rights of the people are protected. And our vote, every vote is counted…but sometimes you see the media pointing in other directions,” Doyle said.
Doyle lives in Virginia Beach, not far from Ellen Gustafson with Vet the Vote. She says she welcomes this kind of skeptic to effort. She is convinced that when he learns how polling stations work, he will reassure himself and others. Gustafson and Doyle will not contest this election, however – their polls had too many volunteers. It’s a good problem, says Gustafson.
“There were 12 in my postcode alone that I saw in our database. So when you go to vote you can be sure that this population is there and they know how to do the right thing. “said Gustafson.