🗳️ There's No One to Count the Ballots
Not 'Quiet Quitting'. Just quitting.
Election officials are quitting in droves and this is a big problem for democracy. By some accounts one in three local election officials in America are quitting or are about to quit.
This isn’t a small, isolated problem.
Deep in Texas wine country, rural Gillespie County only has about 25,000 people. Driving around the county, as I have, you can see sheep ranches, vineyards, and white-tailed deer roaming on the outskirts of farmland.
And now you can probably spot former election officials too … because Gillespie County’s entire elections department suddenly quit last week - less than 60 days before the November midterms. If you’re a Gillespie County resident in need of a local ballot, you’ll have to deal with a darkened and locked elections office with only a “Your Vote Counts” poster hanging in a window by the door.
Election officials are walking off the job across Texas where nearly 37 election administrators have quit since the 2020 elections. And the problem doesn’t end in the Lone Star State:
Sam Merlino, a Republican, decided to walk away this week from a job she loved as an election official and county clerk in Nye County, Nevada.
Leslie Hoffman and Lynn Constable who served as election directors in Yavapai County, AZ abruptly quit their jobs last month.
Two poll workers in Santa Fe, NM walked off the job two days before the state primary last month.
Roxanna Moritz quit five months after winning her fourth term as chief election officer in Davenport, Iowa.
Shari Brewer of Butler County, PA resigned as the director of the Board of Elections, right before the midterm primary.
There are hundreds of additional examples.
Why are election officials quitting?
The first answer is also the simplest: harassment.
The Department of Justice reviewed over a thousand threats against election officials in 2022, and these were just the threats that were reported - far more incidents exist that were never shared with the authorities.
And it’s not just ordinary run of the mill political harassment from the opposing party, its death threats from ordinary voters, instances of property damage and even physical violence and assaults directed at election workers.
In addition to harassment, many election workers are fed up with uninformed and ignorant state and county voting policies that are making their jobs harder. For instance, in Texas, new restrictive voting legislation gives citizen election observers and poll watchers a lot more latitude to scrutinize the work of local election officials in ways that compromise ballot security.
“I could be charged with a felony. I could lose my voting rights. For something I didn’t do. So I decided to leave.” -Roxanna Moritz
In the case of Shari Brewer and Roxanna Moritz, state legislatures have criminalized conduct, such as election errors, making rare technical mistakes into major felonies.
Lastly, many election workers are leaving because the generalized stress and unpredictability are not worth it. One overriding theme is the irrationality of the complaints they are confronting. For instance, one of the reasons that the entire elections department of Gillespie County walked off the job was because of the aggressive threats and harassment they continued to receive from Trump voters angry about alleged ballot fraud in the 2020 election … but in Gillespie County Trump did win … by 80%! (also, there was no evidence of ballot fraud).
This is a pattern across the country: Trump supporters are alleging fraud and engaging in harassment largely in counties that he won. This leads to an interesting quirk: at least half of the election workers who are quitting are Republicans in Republican-majority counties.
Why does this matter?
New hires are not the best candidates for the job
The job of an election official has changed dramatically over the years and it is not a position that just anyone can learn in a few short months. With average turnover rates of 40% in a highly competitive labor market, this means less expertise and a higher chance of voting errors as we get closer to the midterms and the 2024 election season.
The real work isn’t being done
An election official’s real job is to administer a fair election (which almost all do with great success) not to respond to frivolous controversies. The less time they have to administer elections, the less secure the voting system becomes.
Loss of faith in the electoral system
It’s not perfect, but the United States has one of the safest, most reliable voting systems in the world. A shrinking cadre of election officials is going to make the lie that elections are unfair an actual reality because the lack of expert, non-partisan election officials may actually introduce negligence into the voting process. This is a vicious cycle that has to be stopped. So how do we?
What can you do?
A lot actually … here are some ideas:
Work or volunteer as a responsible poll worker or election official. Many of those who are less vulnerable to threats or intimidation are stepping up to help “democracy carry on.”
Part of the problem is the confusing mix of state and local election rules. Streamlining these will provide less room for confusion and a reliable baseline for election officials to adhere to. Email or call your state or federal elected official encouraging them to set national standards for voting rights and election administration is a good step in that direction.
State and local officials can also provide funding for security for election officials (currently there is none).
Instead of criminalizing the non-partisan work of election officials, how about we make the threats and intimidation of election officials a state or federal crime?
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