The possibility that Gov. Phil Murphy will use the New Jersey National Guard to work the polls on Election Day next week could offer unsettling imagery of the military serving a role in the electoral process.
Assemblyman Ryan Peters (R-Hainesport), a U.S. Navy SEAL commander who now serves in the Navy Reserve, said he has serious concerns over the appearance of a military presence at polling places.
“Having the National Guard in uniform does not feel right to me in a democracy,” Peters said. “Having a uniformed soldier at a polling location, that just feels weird to me.
The New Jersey Globe reported today that the National Guard has offered manpower assistance to election officials facing a shortage of Election Day workers as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.
Peters pointed to the traditional civil-military relationship that has traditionally separated men and women in uniform from the political arena.” he said.
“‘There’d be a civics lesson we’d need to teach before a citizen sees a uniformed soldier at their polling place,” Peters stated.
The two-term GOP legislator said he could envision a role of National Guard members to help without confusing voters, likening it to some military officials who modify their uniforms while working in U.S. embassies overseas.
Last month, Army Gen. Mark Milley, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, apologized for taking part in a photo op with President Donald Trump near the White House.
Milley acknowledged that the photograph “sparked a national debate about the role of the military in civil society.”
“I should not have been there,” Milley said. “My presence in that moment, and in that environment, created a perception of the military involved in domestic politics.”
Still, Peters said that the soldiers could be helpful in roles that don’t include signing in voters or operating voting machines. He listed the distribution of face masks or helping to organize lines of voters seeking to cast provisional ballots, if that happens.
“Picture the most perfect Wal-Mart greeter on the planet, but not in uniform,” Peters said. “That uniform is going to put you off.”