Yesterday, Issue One hosted a virtual event with current and former election officials providing further insights from our recent “High Cost of High Turnover” report, which revealed an alarming trend: the turnover rate among local election officials since November 2020 is far higher than what would normally be expected, especially in battleground states where officials have been especially targeted by death threats and harassment.
Three members of Issue One’s Faces of Democracy campaign, Arizona Secretary of State Adrian Fontes, King County, WA, Director of Elections Julie Wise, and former Utah County, UT, Clerk Josh Daniels, joined the event to discuss the impact of high turnover and how Congress can help remedy this crisis by providing more funding and protections to these dedicated public servants.
Issue One found that half of the 76 million Americans who live in the western United States have a new chief local election official since the 2020 presidential election. In this 11-state region, more than 160 chief local election officials have left their positions since November 2020. This represents roughly 40% of the total chief local election officials in the region. These officials took with them more than 1,800 years of combined experience.
All three panelists spoke to how Congress can help to mitigate the effects of lost experience and high turnover by providing more protections and consistent funding to elections. When asked why increased funding from the federal government is needed, Secretary Fontes replied: “Elections are critical infrastructure. Just like our roads, and our bridges, and our dams, and our water systems. We have to have follow-through from the federal government.”
Following the event, Secretary Fontes and Pennsylvania Secretary of State Al Schmidt, also a Faces of Democracy member, testified before a Senate Rules Committee hearing focused on the ongoing threats to election administration. Both cited the need for Congress to adequately fund elections to help mitigate the impact of high turnover of election officials.
“In Arizona, our democracy remains strong. But with all the election misinformation and related threats, comes a grave human cost,” Secretary Fontes said as part of his opening testimony. “Partially due to threats and intimidation, Arizona today ranks second in the nation for negative turnover among top election officials. Since 2020, 12 out of 15 Arizona counties have lost a top official — either an elected county recorder or appointed election director, and in some counties, both. A recent Issue One report calculated that Arizona has lost 176 combined years of senior election administration expertise.”
Secretary Fontes continued: “Threats to American democracy are real, and American election administrators from across the nation are rising up to meet these challenges. But we cannot do this alone. Now, more than ever, we need a sustained and robust congressional commitment to support our efforts in protecting the democracy that upholds our great republic against the threats we all face.”
Secretary Schmidt also spoke about the impact threats to election officials have had across the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania: “When I last testified before this committee on the topic of threats to election administrators, almost exactly two years ago, I was a Philadelphia City Commissioner who had overseen more than two dozen elections in nearly 10 years of public service. I was also one of many local election officials who experienced threats of violence directed at me and my family after the 2020 election. Now, as a statewide election official, I see the broader effects and consequences of those threats, including high turnover among experienced local election staff and the need for robust training efforts resulting from that turnover.”
“We are doing our part, but we need the federal government to partner with us to help protect election administrators and, ultimately, our democratic institutions,” said Secretary Schmidt. “We also need better funding of elections in general and grants specifically appropriated to secure election offices and operations. Our local election officials deserve to feel safe.”
Throughout the hearing, Secretaries Fontes and Schmidt talked about the need to keep election officials and poll workers safe from threats and harassment; how the current environment has impacted recruitment; and the importance of regular, predictable, and sufficient federal funding of elections. “These are the jobs that preserve our democracy,” Secretary Fontes said.
Issue One also submitted our turnover report to the committee for the record, as well as written testimony from Faces member and Champaign County, IL, Clerk Aaron Ammons, who described election officials as “soldiers on the frontlines of democracy… under unprecedented assault to facilitate our elections.”
Earlier this year, two dozen election officials and poll workers from Issue One’s Faces of Democracy campaign traveled to Washington, D.C., to to urge lawmakers and the Biden Administration to work in a bipartisan way to secure our country’s critical election infrastructure and protect election workers in advance of the 2024 election cycle and beyond. Officials at all levels of election administration met with the White House, Department of Justice, Department of Homeland Security, and nearly sixty Republican and Democratic members of Congress to share the challenges they continue to face in carrying out their jobs. They asked members of Congress for regular congressional appropriations for elections to meet the country’s security needs, privacy protections for election officials, and stronger enforcement of laws against perpetrators of threats against election workers.