New research from Issue One shows that 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. As Issue One’s new “High Cost of High Turnover” report details, the costs of this exodus are real — especially in terms of psychological duress, lost institutional knowledge, and the financial impacts of recruiting, hiring, and training new people to fill these critical positions. Congress can help remedy this crisis by providing more funding and protections to these dedicated public servants.
In a new regional case study, 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 — which includes two major presidential battleground states as well as a mix of Democratic-leaning and Republican-leaning states and where elections are typically administered at the county level by a single official — 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 and the typical number of years of experience held by election administrators in these counties dropped from about eight years to one year, Issue One found.
“These turnover rates signify a crisis in our democracy,” said Issue One Founder and CEO Nick Penniman. “The health and vibrancy of election administrators are essential to ensuring free and fair elections in our country. Congress should heed the call of America’s election officials and deliver regular funding and stronger protections for election workers, and law enforcement agencies should intensify their efforts to hold accountable those that threaten the dedicated officials who help Americans make their voices heard at the ballot box. Election after election, local officials rise to the occasion to administer free and fair elections that are safe and secure. Now is the time for policymakers and lawmakers to stand with them.”
In four states, Issue One found that the number of chief local election officials who are new since the 2020 presidential election exceeds 50% — Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico, and Utah. In this region, Idaho and Washington were at the low end of the spectrum, but nevertheless, 23% of counties in those two states have new chief local election officials.
In Arizona, the western state with the highest portion of counties seeing turnover among their election officials, 80% of the state’s counties have at least one new chief local election official, and 98% of Arizonans will see the 2024 election administered by someone different than the officials who administered the 2020 election. Because election administration duties in Arizona are typically split between two officials in each county, this corresponds to 55% of the chief local election officials in Arizona’s counties being new since November 2020. The officials who left these posts took with them a combined 168 years of experience.
“Arizona has seen top election officials in 12 out of our 15 counties leave their posts since 2020, in no small part due to a volatile atmosphere of threats and intimidation,” said Arizona Secretary of State Adrian Fontes, a member of Issue One’s crosspartisan Faces of Democracy campaign that is calling for increased federal funding and protections for election workers. “Since Arizona is a bottom-up state, the loss of these local officials means that the counties that run our elections will have to do more with less. Increased federal funding would have an enormous impact as we work to recruit, train, and retain the next generation of election professionals. Additional federal investment will also address an unfunded mandate by which state and local governments assume the responsibility of holding elections for federal office without receiving the adequate amount of funding. Though the needs of Arizona and every other state are unique, it is in our common interest to ensure safe, secure, and accurate elections for every single American — no matter where they live.”
In Nevada, 59% of the state’s counties have a new chief local election official, and 96% of Nevadans will see the 2024 election administered by someone different than the officials who administered the 2020 election. The officials who left their post took a combined 104 years of experience.
“Nevada has lost more than half of our top county election officials since the 2020 election, and many more staff within elections offices across the state,” said Nevada Secretary of State Francisco V. Aguilar, another member of the Faces of Democracy campaign. “This has led to a critical loss of institutional knowledge and staffing shortages ahead of the 2024 presidential election. Elections don’t work without people and resources, and consistent federal funding for elections infrastructure would greatly strengthen our democracy.”
While we are currently seeing a renewed push by civic organizations, veterans groups, corporations, and others to bolster a new generation of poll workers to help run elections, it is essential that lawmakers strengthen our election infrastructure and protect the dedicated people who keep it functioning.
Read the full report, “The High Cost of High Turnover.”
Issue: Election Administration