ARLINGTON, Va. – At the request of their governors, Soldiers and Airmen of the National Guard are assisting at polling stations, providing cyber support and conducting logistical missions for the Nov. 3 election.
The National Guard has a long-standing tradition of providing electoral support to state and local authorities. This year, concerns about COVID-19 caused many poll volunteers to stay home, prompting states to ask for help from the National Guard.
Guard members will support polling sites on state active duty status, funded by the state and under the authority of the governor.
Nebraska is one state whose governor authorized the use of its National Guard for election support in May during its primary.
“Those service members were on state active duty, so they’re a state employee,” said Air Force Maj. Gen. Daryl Bohac, the Nebraska National Guard’s adjutant general.
In addition to standing in for poll workers, the Guard has expertise in cybersecurity to support the electoral process.
“Our highly trained cyber warriors provide our state partners significant capability and expertise to address election infrastructure issues,” said Army Gen. Daniel Hokanson, National Guard Bureau chief.
National Guard men and women have provided cyber support through training exercises with local and state cyber officials and critical infrastructure partners, assessing network vulnerability, conducting risk assessments and sharing information on potential cyber threats.
Last month, more than 800 Guard members participated in a virtual cybersecurity exercise with local, state and federal agencies to hone their skills.
In addition to practical exercises, the Guard partners with state, local and federal organizations to provide cybersecurity. They share information and mitigation tactics for election support.
Washington state also uses its technologically savvy Citizen-Soldiers to its advantage.
“We are very geographically blessed with cyber talent in our state’s National Guard,” said Air Force Brig. Gen. Gent Welsh, the Washington National Guard’s assistant adjutant general. “[Having] companies like Microsoft and Amazon and Intel, and a number of other tech startups in Washington allows us to draw those folks into the Guard. Then, when we are having issues like we are having right now with our election system, we can take a peek at the system, and we’ve got some really, really qualified and talented folks to do that.”
Welsh said the biggest potential threat Guard members are trying to prevent is intrusions into state voting systems. They monitor firewalls, look for anomalies in their state’s system and conduct typical network hygiene that would be expected at any civilian company, he said.
The Wisconsin National Guard has already supported three elections in Wisconsin since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The Wisconsin National Guard answered the call with more than 2,400 Citizen-Soldiers and -Airmen answering the call to staff polling locations in 71 of Wisconsin’s 72 counties for April’s election,” said Army Brig. Gen. Robyn Blader, the Wisconsin National Guard’s assistant adjutant general. She added that although acting as poll workers was a new mission, Guard members embrace their role as “neighbors helping neighbors.”
Blader was not the only one who relished the opportunity for community service. Bohac, who commanded the Nebraska Guard Soldiers and Airmen who supported the state’s primary election, agreed. He answered the Nebraska governor’s office call for election support with 134 Guard members at 70 polling sites. He also saw the mission as an opportunity to fulfill Guard members' sworn duty.
“It’s my belief that it was an excellent example of fulfilling the oath of enlistment that we take as National Guard members, to support and defend the Constitution of the United States; for us, the state of Nebraska, and to enable citizens to have access to voting,” said Bohac.