“They’re exhausted,” Tammy Patrick, CEO of the National Association of Election Officials, which has a membership of 1,800 officials across the US, tells WIRED. “People are tired, and we haven’t even started the election cycle this year. They are still under attack, they’re still getting death threats from 2020.”

They’re also trying to just do their jobs, and make sure eligible voters are able to vote and the politicians on the ballot accept the results no matter what. “As a nation, we’re holding our breath to see if that happens,” Patrick says.

According to a new report published this week by the Bipartisan Policy Center, the level of election worker turnover has spiked dramatically since 2020, with the researchers observing an almost 40 percent jump in resignations between 2004 and 2022.

“It is difficult to recruit people who are able to withstand the intense pressure that has become inherent in election administration,” Stuart Holmes, director of elections in Washington state, tells WIRED. “We often find that people either love election administration and are in for life, or leave within six months.”

In some cases, like in Buckingham County, Virginia, entire election offices have quit due to threats.

“We do have examples across the country where the entire office resigned because they were just mentally unable to go to work every day and be inundated with death threats,” Patrick said. “It is not the sort of situation one would think about for the United States of America. It’s the sort of thing we would think about in struggling new democracies where they don’t have the traditions that many of us now realize we were taking for granted, like concessions when one loses.”

Leslie Hoffman, who ran the elections office in Yavapai County in Arizona, where vigilantes monitored drop boxes, quit in 2022. At the time, she cited the “nastiness” of the threats she received. She later told WIRED that she actually quit because her dog was poisoned just before she left her post. No one was ever arrested or charged, but she believes it was related to her election work.

For the election officials and workers who have remained in their roles, they are now facing 2024 already having to cover for colleagues who have departed and whose positions remain unfilled—including at least one election director role.

According to the Brennan Center survey, one in five of the officials who will be working on the 2024 vote will be doing so for the first time.

“Institutional knowledge is so important. Employee turnover in an election administration can look like not knowing how to set up, or opening your poll site late, or directing people to the wrong place,” Christina Baal-Owens, the executive director of voting rights organizations Public Wise, tells WIRED. “There’s also the cost of training and recruitment. Hiring costs money, and recruiting costs money. It’s a drain on resources.”

Baal-Owens also points out that the loss of experienced employees can have less obvious impacts: “Voting is incredibly local, and in a lot of communities, elderly folks are the ones that vote and they have relationships with the people that have been administering their elections. So losing those relationships is also really important. Losing that institutional knowledge is an issue.”


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