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Over the past two years, the people who run America’s elections have been sounding the alarm.
The polarized electoral environment that resulted from the 2020 elections led to near-daily harassment and death threats for some election officials, and made the profession unsustainable for many.
Now, there is new data to support these concerns.
A new survey of local election officials released Thursday by the Brennan Center for Justice found that one in five local election administrators say they are likely to quit their job before the 2024 presidential election.
“There is a crisis in election administration,” said Larry Norden, senior director of elections and government at the Brennan Center. “[Election administrators] are worried and they are not getting the support they need. »
The Brennan Center worked with the Benenson Strategy Group, which has worked for a number of Democratic national political campaigns, to conduct the two-week survey in early February of 596 local election officials. Respondents were fairly evenly split across the political spectrum: 26% identified as Democrats, 30% as Republicans, and 44% said they were independents. The margin of error was about 4%.
The poll results show that the 2020 election — particularly former President Donald Trump’s continued false attacks on the legitimacy of the voting process — plays a significant role in how election officials feel about their jobs.
Among election officials who said they were likely to leave their jobs before 2024, the most common reasons were that too many politicians were attacking “a system they know was fair and honest” and that the job was too stressful.
The majority of election officials surveyed also said they were concerned about interference by political leaders in how they do their job in future elections, reflecting the unprecedented effort by Trump and his campaign to influence electoral officials at national and local levels.
Misinformation led to threats of violence against electoral professionals
“I’m afraid someone I know will be seriously injured one day,” said Natalie Adona, an election official from Nevada County, California. “I know that’s a shared thought with other people I’ve spoken to.”
Adona says she recently got a restraining order against someone who slammed a door on one of her staff.
Nearly a fifth of election administrators surveyed in the Brennan Center poll say they have been threatened because of their work, and more than half say they are worried about the safety of their colleagues in the upcoming election.
Colorado Secretary of State Jena Griswold told a recent meeting of officials across the country that she had received 22 death threats in the previous week, and she was seeking advice on whether states could spend federal election grant money for the personal security of election officials.
“They’re thinking about things like, ‘Can we buy bulletproof glass for some offices?'” Norden said, from the Brennan Center.
Local officials say election administration needs more funding
More than 3 in 4 election officials surveyed said the federal government should do more to support them.
There is no regular funding system for elections from the federal government, although in recent years states have received ad hoc influxes of money from Congress. The omnibus federal spending bill Congress is advancing this week includes $75 million for improving election infrastructure.
It’s better than nothing, experts say, but it’s far from the amount of money they deem it necessary given all the new responsibilities that election officials have taken on in recent years, including cybersecurity and physical security.
A recent report from the Brennan Center and Verified Voting found that it would cost more than $100 million just to replace the least secure voting machines still in use in the United States.
“Part of the pressure [on officials], quite frankly, is economic,” said Kathleen Hale, who leads the Election Administration Initiative at Auburn University. “Election offices are ridiculously underfunded by anyone. And I haven’t seen much in the election that can’t be solved with a healthy injection of cash.”
There’s no national data on exactly how many election workers have left the profession since 2020, but Hale says she’s definitely noticed a shadow from this election on many people who run local offices. Which is frustrating, she said, given that there were no real major issues.
“People who are attracted to this job and stay in it take tremendous pride in the work they do. They feel like they’ve really accomplished something to drive an election, especially a presidential one,” Hale said. “And for the first time in my memory, people were discouraged by the environment around the 2020 election – despite the fact that it was, by any measure, the most successful election we have had. never had.”
The Brennan Center poll found that most election officials — about 75% — say they find real pleasure in their job. But a majority also said they fear the current environment could make it more difficult to retain or recruit election workers in the future.