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National Guard could be tasked to protect voting. So far, few governors have asked

A poll worker, left, joins with two National Guard members in tabulating an absentee ballot on April 7, 2020, in Madison, Wisconsin. (Andy Manis/Getty Images/TNS)

The National Guard is prepared to help with security at polling sites, sort ballots or bolster cybersecurity for the November elections, but so far few governors have requested that assistance, Guard units across the country told McClatchy on Wednesday.

The Kentucky National Guard, which was most recently called to respond to civil unrest following the death of Breonna Taylor, has been asked by the governor to assist polling locations in the 2020 election with tasks such as cybersecurity help or even directing traffic.

The service members who provide support for the general election will be in civilian clothes, said Kentucky National Guard spokesman Maj. Stephen Martin.

“In no way will we perform any duty of an election officer,” he said.

According to federal law, military personnel under federal control and funding are prohibited from conducting operations at polling places.

However units under state control, and at a governor’s request, can provide “defensive cybersecurity in some states, as well as assisting in setting up polling stations, sorting ballots, and providing physical security for citizen safety and protection,” said National Guard spokesman Army Master Sgt. Michael Houk.

“There isn’t a nationwide plan for direct National Guard support to polling stations for elections,” Houk said.

Only one other Guard unit contacted by McClatchy, Washington state, said it would be providing polling site assistance, but limited to cybersecurity.

National Guard units in Kansas, Florida, South Carolina, California and Minnesota said they had not received any request for assistance from their governor. The National Guard in Michigan and Wisconsin did not immediately respond.

“We have not received any official request from any agency in South Carolina for polling support,” said spokeswoman Capt. Jessica Donnelly.

National Guard service members under state control worked at polling locations during the primaries too, including the Kentucky National Guard.

Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers activated Guard units during their April primary to staff undermanned polling sites where poll workers had quit due to the coronavirus.

Questions on whether the National Guard may have a role in providing security during the November election resurfaced after this week’s contentious presidential debate.

“One of the most disturbing things I heard last night in the debate was basically a call for people to come out and sort of watch the polls, but in a way that could also be very intimidating to voters,” Michèle Flournoy, who served as the under secretary of defense for policy under former President Barack Obama, told reporters at a Defense News conference Wednesday.

Flournoy is considered a potential candidate for defense secretary if Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden is elected.

But the National Guard should not be the first option to turn to if there are problems at polling sites on Nov. 3, Flournoy said.

“I think going right to the National Guard on voting day … I don’t think that’s a healthy thing for our democracy,” she said.


© 2020 McClatchy Washington Bureau

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.