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START Director helps 63K veterans, military family members become poll workers

William Braniff, director of the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START), has spent the last six months encouraging veterans and military family members to sign up to become poll workers through a new campaign called Vet the Vote.

His efforts—along with those from fellow members of the organization behind the campaign, We the Veterans—were largely successful, mobilizing more than 63,000 potential poll workers from 50 states and Washington, D.C. to staff 2022 midterm election voting sites all across the country.

“We are absolutely over the moon about recruiting around 63,000,” Braniff said. “But this isn’t just about these midterms, it's about every election cycle going forward, and really creating a new civic norm so that this population of veterans and military family members will constantly replenish these poll worker ranks.” 

According to the U.S. Election Assistance Commission (EAC), in 2018, 66% of election officials said they found it difficult to obtain a sufficient number of poll workers. And considering just 25% of the poll worker population is under the age of 70, the EAC only expects the present poll worker shortage to get worse. 

“This is a large population that has already demonstrated a willingness to serve their country, that is used to working with individuals with all kinds of backgrounds, and that is no stranger to long days in which process and protocol are really important,” Braniff explained. “We the Veterans believes that veterans and military family members are ideal candidates to support American democracy and help their neighbors vote.”

Braniff helped co-found We the Veterans in 2021. Recently, a nearly $750,000 Terrorism and Targeted Violence Prevention Program grant from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security formalized the connection between START and We the Veterans, tasking the two organizations with bringing together an innovative, multi-sectoral, and multidisciplinary violence prevention ecosystem based on the strengths of the veteran and military family community. 

Another We the Veterans co-founder, Ben Keiser, is likewise now doubly connected to the University of Maryland. Keiser signed up to join the Marine Corps not long after initially attending UMD, then came back to UMD while serving as a reservist—during which time he was promoted to Sergeant and led the Radio section of an artillery battery. He graduated from the College of Behavioral and Social Sciences in 2000 with a B.A. in Criminology and Criminal Justice before going on to law school, which he then withdrew from to deploy for Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003.

Both Braniff and Keiser signed up to be poll workers this year. 

“I volunteered to serve as a poll worker because our country was facing a record shortage of poll workers,” Keiser said. “It’s all of our civic responsibility to help ensure our elections are fully staffed so that everyone can vote and every vote is counted, but as a former service member, you feel a heightened sense of duty.”

When asked what message he wants to pass along to other military service members, Keiser said, “We may have taken off the uniform, but there are many ways to keep serving. It may be too late to serve as a poll worker in this election, but sign up and get your application in and join the election worker reserve force—you may still be called for this election if you’re in an area of high need. If not, make sure you’re on the list for the next election.”

Those interested in signing up to be a poll worker can get directly connected to their local election office by visiting vetthe.vote/pages/sign-up-now.

A version of this article first appeared on the University of Maryland’s College of Behavioral & Social Sciences website.