The nonprofit We the Veterans is kicking off its 2024 Vet the Vote campaign this week in Las Vegas ahead of the Super Bowl, with the goal of recruiting 100,000 veterans and military family members to volunteer as poll workers in the upcoming presidential election.
The group was present at the Super Bowl Experience on Wednesday, an event that precedes the game every year and allows fans to get autographs from National Football League players, shop for merchandise and snap photos with the Vince Lombardi Trophy. There, Vet the Vote organizers were given a platform to share the message that U.S. elections are safe and effective — and have the support of tens of thousands of veterans and military families who have participated in the process in recent years.
During a time when misinformation is eroding trust in U.S. elections, the group believes veterans are the key to restoring confidence.
“We’re seeing some cracks in the consensus around democracy here in the United States,” said Ben Keiser, a Marine Corps veteran and co-founder of We the Veterans. “So what we really need is an effective messenger to break through all of that who’s seen as credible and trustworthy by all of America, and that is veterans and military families. They’re able to cut through division, build bridges and catalyze social cohesion.”
Distrust in U.S. elections reached a climax in 2020, when former President Donald Trump and his supporters made unsubstantiated claims that he lost because of widespread voter fraud.
Leading up to the 2022 midterm elections, distrust in the process was still rampant. According to a survey by the Yankelovich Center for Social Science Research, about 65% of Democrats and 48% of Republicans said they trusted U.S. elections before the midterms. That trust rose after the midterm elections to 83% among Democrats but dropped to 46% among Republicans, the report found.
We the Veterans organized its first Vet the Vote campaign in 2022 and recruited more than 63,500 veterans and military family members to work the polls. The volunteers filled about half of the shortage of election workers that year.
“The reason that we’re doing the work we’re doing and getting so much support is that the vast majority of veterans and the military community just wants to see what’s best for the country,” said Ellen Gustafson, co-founder of We the Veterans.
Seeing similar levels of distrust in the voting process in the lead-up to the presidential election, as well as increased threats toward election workers, We the Veterans quickly set its sights on 2024.
According to research from the University of Nebraska, threats against public officials increased from 2013 to 2023, and elected officials — as well as people who run elections — were the second most-targeted category. A report by the Brennan Center for Justice found that more than half of the people who manage elections in the U.S. are concerned that the threats will harm the retention and recruitment of poll workers.
Ahead of this week’s launch of Vet the Vote at the Super Bowl, We the Veterans was already at work to fortify voters against election misinformation. Members of the nonprofit traveled to five states in 2023, launching local campaigns to explain the election process and encourage veterans and military family members to get involved.
We the Veterans is now working with the NFL — and using its massive platform — to reach its goal. The NFL is one of 36 groups that comprise the Vet the Vote coalition.
“Particularly during this time of political polarization and partisan divisions, the league wanted to leverage our platform to promote the fundamental values that bind us together as a country,” Ken Edmonds, a lobbyist for the NFL, said this week on the We the Veterans podcast.
The NFL also runs its own initiative, NFL Votes, which encourages fans to become informed and effective voters. Through that campaign, NFL players have shared personal stories about voting.
“People look up to NFL players, but we also know people look up to and respect people who have served our country,” said Anna Isaakson, the league’s vice president of social responsibility. “There’s no better group to do this.”
While in Las Vegas this week, Vet the Vote organizers are expected to give away two tickets to Super Bowl 58 to a local election volunteer.
Nikki Wentling covers disinformation and extremism for Military Times. She's reported on veterans and military communities for eight years and has also covered technology, politics, health care and crime. Her work has earned multiple honors from the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans, the Arkansas Associated Press Managing Editors and others.