Today, as the early voting period of the 2022 election season officially begins, Issue One released a new digital guide, “Faces of Democracy: How Our Elections Work and the Challenges Ahead,” to give the American public in-depth look about how U.S. elections work and how lawmakers should strengthen them. The guide is informed by extensive original interviews with election officials and poll workers from across the political spectrum who are part of our Faces of Democracy campaign.
Front and center in this work are the “faces of democracy” themselves: state and local election officials and poll workers, our friends and neighbors, who make democracy possible and are the best messengers for those who have questions about the integrity of our elections.
“It’s election season and it’s time for election facts,” said Dokhi Fassihian, deputy chief of strategy and program at Issue One. “Americans deserve to know how our elections work, and there’s no better messenger than the election professionals who administer our polls in communities across the country. These faces of democracy explain the intricate structures that allow our votes to be cast and counted, and they tell us what we need to do to sustain our system of self-government moving forward.”
Readers will learn who these public servants are as people, how they do their jobs, and how we can all support their work. The guide also walks readers through the robust security, accountability, and transparency measures found at all levels of the voting process, takes a look at the key ways states and local jurisdictions differ in how they run elections, and offers a frank assessment of the way the process could be made even stronger — including a call for robust and regular federal funding for state and local elections.
“America’s system of elections — more than 10,000 different jurisdictions — is incredibly secure, highly localized, and non-partisan,” said Evan Ottenfeld, lead author of the guide. “But such complex and differing systems are an understandable source of confusion for the average American — confusion that bad actors are all-too-willing to exploit. Faces of Democracy seeks to clear up misconceptions about our voting process while also outlining areas where local election workers, states, and the federal government can constructively collaborate to make our entire system stronger. ”
The Faces of Democracy campaign is powered by the election workers who are featured and profiled throughout the guide. The campaign, informed by the election workers’ stories and experiences, aims to win significant, predictable, and regular funding for state and local election administration by Congress, protections for election workers and facilities, and the updating of arcane election laws.
Excerpts from interviews with the Faces of Democracy election workers featured in the guide:
“Most election officials come to the field as a result of being a temporary election worker, but once you get into it, it’s very hard to take yourself away from it.” – Natalie Adona, clerk-recorder-elect, Nevada County, California
“There are those moments when you have an interaction with a voter, and you realize the significance of the work that you do, and even on the worst days, you think about that voter and that moment you shared with them, and it motivates you to continue to do that work.” – Karen Brinson Bell, executive director, North Carolina State Board of Elections
“Elections are people driven, and that’s how it should be. Clerks are public servants. We’re neighbors, coaches, the parents in line during school pickup.” – Barb Byrum, clerk, Ingham County, Michigan
“It’s important that we have a democracy and an election system that is inclusive of any eligible voter who wants to participate.” – Leigh Chapman, acting secretary of state, Pennsylvania
“You want your community and the people you know to be a part of the election system. This is a democracy built for the people by the people, and it ideally needs to reflect who we are.” – Virginia Chau, supervisor of poll workers, Denver, Colorado
“This is one job that I’ve enjoyed every day of my life that I’ve been here.” – Jim Condos, secretary of state, Vermont
“We err on the ‘it’s better to be accurate than fast’ mentality.” – Nick Custodio, deputy city commissioner, Philadelphia
“It’s so important to me that people do believe that their votes count and that our country is worth sustaining and defending. Some of the things that have happened over the last couple of years have brought that into sharp focus for me.” – Cathy Darling Allen, clerk and registrar of voters, Shasta County, California
“We don’t have any stake in the game other than to make sure that the election is administered in a fair, free way, and that the process is protected, and people at the end know who the winner is, and who the loser is, and they can trust that result.” – Lisa Deeley, city commissioner, Philadelphia
“I don’t think I’ve ever done anything more important than the work that I’m doing right now, standing behind the certification of the 2020 election as it has been attacked from every corner in every way.” – Bill Gates, chair of Maricopa County, Arizona Board of Supervisors
“Poll workers have to get to the polls at 5:30am and sometimes they don’t leave until several hours after the polls close. But I find they come back, year after year, because they just enjoy it. They enjoy communicating with the voter.” – Ken Hamm, part-time poll worker and trainer, Clark County, Nevada
“I don’t mind if skeptics have distrust in the system. Come in and volunteer, but don’t disrupt the operation. I want you to see how it works.” – Neal Kelley, former registrar of voters, Orange County, California
“Voting rights are the device we have to participate in our living and breathing government, and election officials are the gateway to that. That’s why the role is so important, and why election officials must act with a high level of integrity all the time, in or out of an election cycle.” – Carly Koppes, clerk and recorder, Weld County, Colorado
“Election administration is the behind-the-scenes detailed work that actually allows voters to get a ballot and allows polling places to be open and allows us to have legitimacy in our elections.” – Brianna Lennon, clerk, Boone County, Missouri
“For most people, 95% of their impressions of our democracy come from that experience they have at the polls. And especially if voters have questions, it’s so important that poll workers be able to answer those questions and to keep the process running smoothly.” – Spenser Mestel, poll worker, Brooklyn, New York
“The best way for someone to really understand how involved elections are is to be a poll worker. Come to a poll worker session and train with us or whoever. You find out how much work goes into it.” – Roxanna Moritz, former auditor & commissioner of elections, Scott County, Iowa
“Election administrators are generally heads down folks. They like to get things done. They like to do a good job. But they’re data-driven people, they’re not necessarily PR people. And so I think most of us would rather not end up in the newspaper.” – Justin Roebuck, clerk, Ottawa County, Michigan
“Encouraging voting is often about repetition, leveraging trusted messengers and pushing out compelling messaging over and over again. That’s what erodes the distrust.” – Omar Sabir, city commissioner, Philadelphia
“It’s important that both parties be represented when running elections. The checks and balances help maintain the integrity of the process, and prevent election administrators from putting their thumb on the scale to benefit one party over another, or one candidate over another.” – Al Schmidt, former city commissioner, Philadelphia
“We want safe and secure elections and we also want accessible elections to honor the sacrifices of all who have come before us and continue forward today to defend our right to vote.” – Shane Schoeller, clerk, Greene County, Missouri
“Election workers are your neighbors, they’re the people you used to go to school with, they’re the people that your kids go to school with. They’re not some deep state government actors who have cooked up this grand conspiracy where people of all parties and at all levels have somehow figured out how to steal elections down to the district level.” – George Stern, clerk and recorder, Jefferson County, Colorado