Meet the Faces of Democracy: Tate Fall

Georgia election official and Auburn sports fan talks about the need for federal funding for elections, the necessity of transparency measures, and building trust with voters

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.

Tate Fall, who is not affiliated with any political party, has served as the elections director of Cobb County, Georgia, since December 2023, when she was hired by the county’s five-member bipartisan Board of Elections.

Cobb County is the third-largest county in Georgia. It is located roughly 20 miles northwest of Atlanta and has more than 500,000 registered voters. Among its attractions is the stadium where the Atlanta Braves Major League Baseball team plays.

Fall has eight years of experience in the elections administration field and is originally from Alabama. There, she worked as a voting rights advocate for disabled Alabamans and interned with the Board of Registrars in Jefferson County, Alabama. Before bringing her expertise to Cobb County as elections director, she was the deputy director of elections in Arlington County, Virginia. Fall has previously served at the national level as a communications specialist for the U.S. Election Assistance Commission (EAC) and as a fellow at The Election Center, a nonprofit also known as the National Association of Election Officials.

Fall, a fan of her alma mater’s sports teams, graduated from Auburn University with a bachelor’s degree in rehabilitation and disability studies, a master’s degree in public administration, and a graduate certificate in elections administration.

In Cobb County, Fall has already added several members to her team and has implemented new transparency measures as she works to rebuild confidence in elections. Since 2024, she has been 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? 

Tate Fall: I did not choose elections like many people, but I am part of a unique new generation of election officials in that I did study election administration. I studied rehab and disability studies as an undergrad and I took a disability law class and learned about the ADA [the Americans with Disabilities Act]. I was enraged that buildings were being built without ramps and wanted to fix the world and make sure every building is accessible. I also wanted to make a living wage, so I decided to stay at Auburn University for grad school to do my MPA. The only research slot that was open and fully funded was in elections. That was the fall of 2016.

When I worked for a commissioner at the EAC, she always said elections are like the Hotel California — once you check in, you never leave. You either love it or you don’t, and I loved it. I went to work for P&A, the protection advocacy group in Alabama, doing disability advocacy work and educating voters with disabilities on their rights and helping local election officials make their poll sites ADA compliant. I went and worked for the Election Assistance Commission in D.C. for two years and then served as the deputy director of elections in Arlington, Virginia. I have been here in Cobb as the director for about four months now.

Issue One: What did you learn as an election official in Virginia that you have been able to take with you into this new role in Georgia? 

Tate Fall: Virginia and Georgia are just about as different as you can get when it comes to election administration. Virginia is a paper-based voting state, Georgia is not. Virginia has 45 days of early voting, Georgia only has 21. Arlington was not that politically contentious and now I am in a super purple county. Being in Arlington gave me a little bit of a soft playground to learn hard lessons.

It is where I really learned how to not take things personally. I oversaw poll workers and early voting sites and when someone was criticizing election integrity, I thought they were criticizing me. I learned how to not internalize that criticism. One of the best pieces of advice I have ever gotten in my life is to not take criticism from someone that you would not take advice from.

Issue One: What was it like working at the EAC during the 2020 election cycle? And can you please say more about how the EAC was able to help election officials respond to challenges during your time there? 

Tate Fall: Being there in 2020 was such a great experience because I was able to see that across the country, we’re all the same. We are different, but we are also dealing with really similar issues. Hearing from many election administrators showed me that we are all in this together and can help figure out each other’s problems. For example, when we implemented ranked choice voting for the first time in Virginia, we were not the first people to implement ranked choice voting ever. We called people in the city of Minneapolis and other groups that have done it before, including Australian election officials. Even if it is the first time your state is doing something, you are never the first person to do it, you just have to know how to reach out to those people.

At the EAC, I also saw the spread of misinformation on a national scale, which was alarming. I was also in D.C. on January 6th. That was the day I first started thinking about my own safety in the work that I do.

Issue One: What do you consider your greatest achievement as an elections administrator? 

Tate Fall: The implementation of ranked choice voting in Virginia. When we did it in Arlington, we were the only jurisdiction to do it and we had really positive feedback from voters. I also learned a ton of lessons in doing that, including how important it is to get trusted voices in the community to be on your team.

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

Tate Fall: Safety. We hear a lot about it now, but I am not sure it has really sunk in for a lot of people. Even my husband thought some of the concerns I had in taking this job were slightly exaggerated. He is totally removed from this field of work. When we moved down here and  started meeting our neighbors, they inevitably asked, “What do you do?” I would tell them and their reactions were a little bit of shock and fear. That was a reality moment for him and based on different incidents that have happened in the short time I have been here, he has become really concerned with my safety being a young woman on my own and having to be escorted home on election night by the sheriff’s deputy.

Part of the disconnect comes from social media. It gives us a buffer to type a comment and be far removed and not see the impact. Those comments turn into people yelling in my face at public meetings. Then it becomes them following me home and sitting outside my house. I don’t think that part is understood by the general population. It is no longer just comments on Facebook, it is an everyday concern for everyone in my office.

Issue One: How are you working to bring more transparency to the world of election administration? 

Tate Fall: Transparency is something that we are always thinking about. I told my staff that I want them to identify ways we can inject transparency into everything that we do. One thing that we are hoping to do starting this summer is to have open tours of our facility. If people come and see the people who work here, they’ll see that we’re their neighbors and the same people in the car pick up line at schools. They’d see that we are not foreign actors, we are not degenerates. Even on our hardest day, they would come in this building and see everyone smiling and our passion for the work.

I also make time for voters who want to talk to me. I tell them, “I count your ballot, whether you trust me or not, I count your ballot the same way that I count every other voter’s ballot, so you do not have to trust me, I am still going to count your vote.” We will continue to do everything we can to ensure our voters trust the process.

Issue One: How many voters are on the rolls in your jurisdiction and what are some of the main challenges of a jurisdiction of that size? 

Tate Fall: We have just over 500,000 active voters. A challenge for us is voter outreach. We do not have our own social media yet; we still use the county social media platforms. If we are not at the table, how can we be a part of the conversation that is happening on Twitter or Facebook or Instagram? We want to meet the voters where they are at.

We have such a diverse population in terms of race, gender, age, and religion. We are trying to  find a way to reach all of them while having no money for outreach. I would love to have billboards or do direct mail campaigns, but to do that with such little funding is really hard. We are already spread so thin with things that we legally have to do and we do not get money for that. It makes it hard for the stuff that we want to do.

Issue One: What are some of the greatest challenges to you and your team in your current political environment? 

Tate Fall: We have the Board of Elections here in Cobb. Two of them are partisan appointees. We have a County Board of Commissioners who are partisan. They are responsible for my funding, sign off on my budget, and have to agree to budget requests. We also answer to a secretary of state who is partisan. We are wholly nonpartisan in every single thing we do in my office, but it is becoming increasingly difficult for people to understand that the decisions we make are not partisan. We have gotten several calls complaining, saying that I am a Democratic actor that has been sent from D.C. to steal the vote for the Democrats.

Really, I am just doing my job. My job is to follow the giant book of Georgia’s election laws. That is my job and there is not a red translation and a blue translation of the law. It gets exhausting to constantly be battling that narrative because it has absolutely no bearing on how we do the things we do and why we do it.

Issue One: Can you say more about your responsibilities versus what the Cobb County Board of Elections is in charge of? 

Tate Fall: The separation of duties is laid out in code. I am technically the superintendent of elections, but so are they in some ways. The board essentially has all of the authority and they just release certain authorities to me.

In Georgia, not every county is set up the same way. Some counties do not have a board, some counties have a probate judge that does some of the work for them. That is why it is a little bit less clear, but in the event of a county having both a board of elections and a director of elections, the job duties are laid out clearly. The board certifies elections, approves polling place locations, approves the AIP [absentee, in person] and early voting hours while I oversee more of the day to day management of the staff in the office.

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

Tate Fall: A regular budget for a regular year is normally between $6 million and $8 million. The majority of that is personnel; we pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in poll workers and temporary workers. In the March PPP [presidential preference primary], we paid for the roaming sheriff’s deputies who roamed around our 11 early voting sites and we had some locations request sheriffs all day. That invoice alone was about $70,000. I also built in a contingency budget of close to $3 million for the presidential election this November to do outreach such as a countywide mailer of sample ballots and information about polling places. Just to mail out 575,000 postcards, postage alone is 31 cents per postcard.

We get our funding from county taxpayers. To my knowledge, we do not receive any funding from the secretary of state unless he is given a grant and can push some funds to us.

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

Tate Fall: If it were sustainable funding, I would focus on outreach. If it were one-time funding, one of my dreams is to move to early voting sites that are wholly owned by us. We rely so heavily on our partners in our senior centers and parks and rec department. We have five elections this year. I ask my fellow county employees to give up spaces that they use to make revenue to let us vote there and I do not pay them anything because I do not have any money to pay them. It is a lot on our partners in the county. I would love to see us move to larger facilities that are owned by us. Then we could serve more voters with a vote center type model.

Issue One: A lot of people are surprised to learn that the federal government does not routinely fund election administration. Why do you think the federal government should routinely fund and invest in elections? 

Tate Fall: I always say I do not write the test, I just administer it. And sometimes I wish the people who are on the test would remember that if they want their tests to be graded accurately, we are going to need some better paid teachers and some better paid machines. We have come to a place as a country where we take what we do for granted and we do not realize that higher quality work requires a higher level of funding. It is not cheap. We can’t take it for granted anymore and realize that elections are a part of the infrastructure of this country and needs to be invested in like other infrastructure is invested in.

Issue One: As the challenges in the political environment have heightened, what inspires you to stay in the line of work? 

Tate Fall: My dad was in the Air Force and my parents implemented a sense of service in me at a really young age. I knew that would always be one of my core values, service to my community. I like to tell the story about my best moment and my worst moment, which happened on the same day. I had a voter crumble up his ballot and throw it in my face because he was angry about ranked choice voting. I also saw a young guy telling his friend that he was so happy for and proud of her. It was the first time she had gotten to vote because she had become a citizen.

Having such a spectrum of interaction reminded me of why I do this job. I serve both those voters the same. I do it for people who are upset and who do not believe in us, whether it is fear or whether it is the news that they watch giving them misinformation. And I do it for people who are crying with joy to have the opportunity to vote.

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

Tate Fall: I love Real Housewives; I love Bravo. I spend a lot of time watching Bravo — too much time. It’s what I like to do to unwind. I love Auburn sports. My favorite teams are Auburn and whoever’s playing Alabama. We go to see Auburn play football, basketball, baseball, gymnastics — you name it, we are there. We are always watching sports. We do college football on Saturdays, fantasy football on Sundays. My husband smokes out some meat and that is pretty much our weekend. It is just us and our two golden retrievers right now.

Issue One: What is your favorite book or movie? 

Tate Fall: It is a tie between the classic Christmas movie “It’s a Wonderful Life” and “Sweet Home Alabama.” I love Reese Witherspoon and I love that the movie is very honest about the South while also showing how great the people are here, too.

Issue One: Which historical figure would you most like the opportunity to meet? 

Tate Fall: Just one? Being from Montgomery, I would have to go with Rosa Parks. My dad was in elementary school during the bus boycott and after hearing what he talked about, the opportunity to speak with her would be just life changing. She was no nonsense and so humble. Having the opportunity to speak with her, even for just five minutes, would be absolutely amazing.


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