Meet the Faces of Democracy: Amy Burgans

Nevada Republican and U.S. Army veteran discusses voter engagement, mail-in voting, and running elections

Editor’s note: More than 10,000 officials across the country run U.S. elections. This interview is part of a series highlighting the election heroes who are the faces of democracy.

Amy Burgans, a registered Republican, has served as the clerk-treasurer for Douglas County, Nevada, since she was appointed to the position in December 2020. In November 2022, she won an election to continue in this role.

Douglas County has a population of about 50,000 people and is located just south of Nevada’s capital, Carson City. Among its attractions are the southeastern shore of Lake Tahoe and the Carson Valley, which includes many hiking trails. The county was named for former Sen. Stephen Douglas (D-IL) who famously debated Abraham Lincoln in 1858 while both men campaigned for the Senate.

Burgans has roughly four years of experience in election administration and became a certified elections/registration administrator in 2023 — the highest professional designation for an election official in the country. She also serves as the secretary/treasurer of the Nevada Association of County Clerks and Election Officials.

Before bringing her experience to Douglas County as the clerk-treasurer, Burgans served as a military police officer in the U.S. Army for 10 years. After her military service, she moved to Douglas County in 2005, where she was a stay-at-home mom to her five children. In 2012, she returned to the workforce, working for the South Lake Tahoe Police Department. She later served as the administrative assistant to the Douglas County Board of County Commissioners.

When Burgans is not working, she enjoys spending time with her family. Burgans has led her county through many challenges since assuming her role as clerk-treasurer, including running elections amid the COVID-19 pandemic and transitioning to become a vote-by-mail jurisdiction.

Since March 2024, Burgans has been a part of Issue One’s Faces of Democracy campaign, advocating for protections for election workers and for regular, predictable, and sufficient federal funding of elections.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Issue One: How did you end up in this profession? 

Amy Burgans: I previously worked for the county manager’s office as the assistant to the Board of Commissioners. In December of 2020, the previous clerk resigned. She and I knew each other well. She emailed me to ask if I had ever thought about her job. After speaking with her and talking with family and friends, I threw my name into the hat, and two days later, the Board of Commissioners appointed me. The next day, I took office. It was a very fast turnaround.

Issue One: You were in the military for nearly 10 years. What types of skills did you develop in the military that you have been able to bring into your current line of work?

Amy Burgans: More than anything, the organizational aspect. I still approach a lot of things from the same organizational standpoint as the military chain of command, knowing who and what your resources are — and during stressful situations, being able to pull those in.

Issue One: Some local election officials focus strictly on running elections. Others have to wear many hats. Your official title is “county clerk-treasurer.” What portion of your time is devoted to running to elections? What other responsibilities are you responsible for in addition to running elections?

Amy Burgans: Douglas County is a rural county, but we are not tiny. We have about 45,000 registered voters. I am very fortunate that I have amazing staff in every department. I have the clerk’s office, the treasurer’s office, and the elections office. I have managers over all three of those departments that really run the day-to-day. In an election year, I would say 90% of my time is focused on the election. During off-election years, I try to divide my time equally between the three departments. I am very fortunate to know that when I am not able to be in the clerk’s office or in the treasurer’s office doing the daily tasks, I have staff who are capable of doing that.

Issue One: What part of the election administration story in your area do you think isn’t told enough or isn’t widely understood enough?

Amy Burgans: It is really all of elections. I wish everyone had a knowledge base about what we actually do instead of the stories that are being told. Two of the biggest pieces of election misinformation that I try to be as vocal as I can about in my community are about mail ballots and the safety and security of the equipment we use.

Issue One: In recent years, election-related misconceptions, conspiracy theories, and lies have proliferated. How has this impacted your daily work?

Amy Burgans: I am really lucky in that it has not really impacted my daily work other than taking very seriously the way that the community sees elections and the transparency that we have within our office. We are the first and only rural county in Nevada that livestreams our mail ballot processing 24/7 during the election. You can go to YouTube and watch every step of the process.

Issue One: What are the main challenges of a jurisdiction of your size?

Amy Burgans: I really like the size of my jurisdiction. It is perfect. It is one of the largest rural counties in Nevada, and there are enough people to keep it fun and interesting. It is a challenge to figure out how I am going to get information to all of those voters, but at the same time, it is small enough that the people know who I am and feel comfortable reaching out and talking to me directly.

Issue One: What are some of the ways you have been successful in combating the spread of false information surrounding election administration in your community?

Amy Burgans: I speak everywhere, and I try to be at every event. Fortunately, because Douglas County is rural and a smaller community, I am very lucky that I know most of the community. I have lived here for almost 20 years. I speak to women’s groups and to political groups, for example. If there is an invitation, I always raise my hand and say yes, because the more I am out there and the more I am able to be the voice of truth, the better. And people do trust me, so I try to stay out in the community so that people know me and they feel comfortable asking me questions.

Issue One: Given all these challenges, what inspires you to stay in this line of work?

Amy Burgans: I look at the big picture. It is so amazing that my team is running elections and putting processes into place that secure it and make it safer and more transparent.

My favorite part of the election process is the legislative session when I get to talk to my legislature about election processes — what we are doing in Douglas County and across the state. It’s important to help legislators understand the implications of laws that they are trying to push through.

I absolutely love what I do. It is a lot of work and responsibility, but ultimately the pride that I get at the end of election night is a very good feeling. Knowing that we were a part of running elections is just a very fulfilling feeling.

Issue One: Many people are surprised to learn that the federal government doesn’t routinely fund the costs of running elections. Why do you think the federal government should help supplement the cost of election administration? 

Amy Burgans: I don’t believe that the federal government should pay for the whole cost of elections, but the federal government should proportionately pay for the candidates that are on their ballots. In Douglas County and Nevada, we have laws in place that if a general improvement district or one of the local districts is on the ballot, I allocate the cost of running their race to them. It would be nice if it worked that way structurally to save counties some money.

Issue One: What is the price tag of running an election in your jurisdiction, and where does funding for election administration in your jurisdiction come from?

Amy Burgans: If we take wages out of the equation, it is about $100,000 to $150,000 each election. It is funded primarily by the county, though we do receive some reimbursements from the state. What we get reimbursed for changes, but right now, we are reimbursed for postage for outgoing and incoming ballots and also for ballot stock, envelopes, and paper, basically the paper products for mail ballots.

Issue One: If your jurisdiction had extra funding, how would you spend it?

Amy Burgans: Right now, we are looking at additional equipment. We are not sure how we are going to fund it. We are actually doing a little bit of budget cutting this year for the next fiscal year, just kind of tightening the belt. There is no funding for anything additional. But I would love to have a budget for more equipment and more outreach. Actually, I would like to see the state fund more voter outreach. Any additional funding I would get would probably go into equipment.

Issue One: Four years ago, Nevada became a universal vote-by-mail state. Some high-profile Republicans have criticized voting by mail. What should the public know about why voting by mail is safe and secure?

Amy Burgans: Assembly Bill 321 made mail ballots universal. We try and make the process as transparent as possible. I’ve implemented a live stream, so you can watch the entire process, from the signature verification to the ballot deconstruction to the tallying of the mail ballots.

I am also always happy to talk to the public about the signature verification process and how difficult it is to actually manufacture someone else’s signature onto a ballot.

Even though about 75% of the ballots that are cast in Douglas County are mail ballots, we verify the signature on every single one manually. We do not have a machine that does it. We have staff members doing that all day during elections. It’s a misconception that someone could come in and drop off hundreds of ballots with fake signatures without getting caught. That is not going to happen.

Issue One: We understand that the United States Postal Service recently made a decision to route all Reno mail — including mail ballots — to Sacramento. Since Douglas County’s mail currently goes through Reno, how will this decision affect Douglas County’s processing of mail ballots?

Amy Burgans: If they move forward with this change, it is going to be devastating. The interstate that goes from Reno to Sacramento closes down all the time. Our mail ballots having to go over the mountains to Sacramento, which is a three-hour drive from me, and then back before I can receive them to process them is going to be devastating to the timelines that we have in place, that are set in law for me to be able to accept those ballots.

Issue One: Outside of being passionate about running safe and secure elections, what are your hobbies, or what is a fun fact that most people might not know about you?

Amy Burgans: I have five kids. My free time revolves around being a taxi for them. My world revolves around elections and my kids.

Issue One: What is your favorite book or movie?

Amy Burgans: My favorite movie is probably “The Notebook.” I love that movie because I like a feel-good movie, something that I can sit and watch over and over, and it never gets old.

Issue One: Which historical figure would you have most liked to have had an opportunity to meet?

Amy Burgans: Honestly, it would probably be the Founding Fathers because of the wisdom they had when they created the Constitution. I would love to just be there and be part of the conversations during the formation of the United States — the ideas they put in place and the reasoning behind why they put them in place. Being able to be a part of the conversations that led to the laws that we have in place would have been amazing.


Note: This piece was cross-published with The Fulcrum.