FORT DIX, N.J. – For the first time in its history, the New Jersey National Guard went to the polls to support the officials who run the state’s elections.
More than 120 Army National Guard Soldiers dressed in civilian clothes reported to county election boards and polling sites in seven counties in support of the 2020 primary election July 7.
The state active-duty mission came in response to concerns about a shortage of poll workers and volunteers due to the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak.
Brig. Gen. Jemal J. Beale, the adjutant general, said the National Guard election effort was an extension of its broader response to the coronavirus, which has included the mobilization of more than 100 Soldiers for duty at three Veterans Memorial Homes run by the New Jersey Department of Military and Veterans Affairs.
“The New Jersey National Guard serves as our state’s military first response,” Beale said. “This response can come in many different forms, but the bottom line is that our Airmen and Soldiers step up when the community needs us.”
Although this was the first time the New Jersey National Guard assisted local election officials, the National Guard has helped out at polling places in several other states the past several months.
The Soldiers mobilized for election duty in New Jersey performed a number of tasks, including processing vote-by-mail and provisional ballots, assisting voters and sanitizing voting devices and other areas inside the polls.
Soldiers assisted in Atlantic, Cumberland, Essex, Gloucester, Mercer, Middlesex and Monmouth counties. Some of the Soldiers will be on duty as long as 15 days to assist officials with the ballot count.
Among the tasks Soldiers performed in Mercer County was to help sort mail-in ballots. That’s where Spc. Carlos Concepcion found himself. He said the election mission was only his latest of several mobilizations in response to the COVID-19 outbreak.
"It feels great because I get to experience a closer connection to the people I live around versus if I was an Active Army Soldier," he said. "Our impact feels bigger because we are right here in our own communities when they need us. When essential workers are also affected by this, if not the National Guard, then who else will fill in these roles? That’s what we signed up to do."
In Atlantic County, Soldiers assisted in assembling provisional ballot bags and filled in for polling-station workers and volunteers.
The largest contingent of Soldiers was sent to Monmouth County, where they reported to the county board of elections. Staff Sgt. Rashaun Jones, the noncommissioned officer in charge, gave a brief pep talk before they started work.
“We’re here because we’re professionals,” he said. “Let’s do great things and have fun.”