Dan Berschinski lost his legs while serving as an Army infantry officer in Afghanistan,
“Got my legs blown off, passed out, woke up a week later at Walter Reed,” he told Reuters.
But his service didn’t end there. Berschinski, like many other veterans, is volunteering as a poll worker this Election Day
“Our infrastructure is undermanned and the people who traditionally do this job for us are at risk,” the veteran said. “I’m younger and, other than not having any legs, I’m perfectly healthy.”
Berschinski, a 2007 West Point graduate with a 2015 Stanford Business School MBA, owns a small business in Atlanta, where he lives with his girlfriend, Reuters reports. The veteran is one of many other former service members who are volunteering their time this year in support of democratic elections. He’s also part of a critical demographic the non-profit group Human Rights First is trying to reach through their “Veterans for American Ideals” project and the #VetsPowerThePolls initiative.
“We’re trying to get vets engaged as poll workers to assist in pulling off a free and fair election, protect the elderly -who constitute the majority of poll workers – during COVID, and get a new generation involved in their communities,” said Christopher Purdy, program manager of Veterans for American Ideals.
Hundreds of veterans of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are expected to participate as poll workers on Election Day 2020.
“I think we’re going to have a higher in-person turnout than ever before, probably just due to the overwhelming interest in this election, but also some people are going to be reluctant to vote by mail,” Berschinski said.
Marine Corps veteran Joseph Jenkins, 35, told The News & Observer he is concerned about the possibility of extremist groups influencing visitors to the polls this year. Tensions are high after COVID-related precautions have led to unprecedented unemployment and closed businesses. In Michigan, where a right-wing militia was charged with terrorism after its plot to kidnap Governor Gretchen Whitmer was foiled, firearms have been banned at polling sites in the same spirit of concern.
“I think that veterans can sort of stand up and lend some legitimacy, some cover to that process,” Jenkins said. “That’s just one trusted institution, one sacred institution protecting another one.”
“When you become a poll worker you go and take an oath,” Jenkins said. “That oath is essentially to support and defend this process that has been around since 1789, it’s very similar to what you do when you become a Marine.”
Jenkins was twice deployed to the Al Anbar province in Iraq between 2006 to 2008, during which time he saw heavy losses on both sides of the war, and met the people who live in the midst of it.
“You look around in towns like Hit or Ramadi, and you see these people, and you know the ultimate goal is to get them a better life, and what that is is a representative form of government, a free and fair election that serves the people,” he said.
Matthew Russell is a West Michigan native and with a background in journalism, data analysis, cartography and design thinking. He likes to learn new things and solve old problems whenever possible, and enjoys bicycling, going to the dog park, spending time with his daughter, and coffee.