Sun. May 19th, 2024

Election worker turnover has reached historic highs ahead of the 2024 vote, new data shows

By 37ci3 Apr9,2024



Election officials across the country are leaving their jobs at the highest rate in decades, replacing thousands of new officials to oversee the tense and high-stakes 2024 presidential race, according to a new study first shared with NBC News.

At least 36% of local election offices have changed hands since 2020 ahead of midterm elections in 2022, following a similar move four years ago when 39% of jurisdictions had new chief election officers. Both points in time represented the highest figures in a four-year cycle in two decades, which worries election experts and officials who say such jobs are complex and have a steep learning curve and no margin for error. And the turnover rate of 2024 may continue to increase as the year progresses.

Election workers have faced unprecedented scrutiny, threats and harassment since the 2020 presidential election, when Donald Trump falsely claimed the election was rigged and made unsubstantiated allegations of voter fraud. And as Trump sought a third term, he continued to predict voter fraud — seems to lay the groundwork Reiterating that the election was stolen if he loses in November.

Although the turnover rate has risen in recent years, the researchers found that it had been gradually increasing for years, suggesting that both new and long-standing problems are driving administrators away from their jobs. Between 2000 and 2004, about 28% of local election officials left their jobs. Four years later, 31% of electoral offices changed hands.

Experts say the dynamic only reinforces the need for better funding and support for election workers to ensure the smooth conduct of future elections.

“This incremental growth that we’ve seen over the past two decades really underscores the need for comprehensive, coordinated strategies that seek to better fund election administration and reduce the burden on these election administrators,” he said. study co-authors, Rachel Orey, senior associate director at the Bipartisan Policy Center’s Elections Project. “Because it’s clear that this isn’t just something that’s happening in 2020.”

The study was conducted by UCLA researchers Daniel M. Thompson and Joshua Ferrer. They have spent years compiling lists and directories of election officials to produce the most accurate and comprehensive picture of election worker turnover in various states and municipalities across the country. Their data was analyzed and published in collaboration with the Bipartisan Policy Center, a think tank in Washington, D.C., to better understand the cycle as election administrators face harassment, violent threats, and increasingly complex and burdensome workloads.

Data for 2024 is current through January and is preliminary.

After 2020, turnover increased in densely populated jurisdictions

The 2020 election has increased and reversed a turnout trend that researchers have found to be consistent across geographic and partisan lines.

Until recently, the bulk of the turnover was driven by the resignations of election officials in small cities and counties, where election officials must wear many hats and oversee all parts of the election process with limited help and staff. After 2020, officials from larger jurisdictions began leaving their jobs at higher rates: Districts with at least 100,000 voting-age residents had a turnover rate of 46% from 2018 to 2022.

Trump and his allies have focused their claims of baseless fraud on major cities such as Phoenix, Philadelphia, Atlanta and Detroit. His supporters have seized on the lawsuits, protesting and harassing officials and poll workers, suggesting that denying the election could increase walkouts in large jurisdictions. There was still no clear link between areas where more threats were reported — such as states that Joe Biden narrowly won in 2020 — and higher turnover, according to the data.

In Georgia, the main battleground, many election offices were flooded voter callspublic information requests and frequent harassment and threats. All four election offices in and around Atlanta, Georgia’s most populous county, have changed hands since 2020, and many lower-level workers are following suit.

“I came here on August 21. When we had our first election in May of ’22, I think it was something like 75% of employees had never participated in an election before,” said Gwinnett County Supervisor of Elections Zach Manifold.

Since then, he said, the turnover in his office has slowed down and made everyone’s life a little easier. He said a camaraderie has developed among new election leaders in the Atlanta area as he talks about their shared experiences.

“I’m part of a new generation of election administrators,” said Tate Fall, Cobb County’s new director of elections. The 30-year-old’s fall began in December — a “baptism by fire,” he said — after working in Virginia elections and studying election management in graduate school.

“We’ve heard a lot about the big resignations and people retiring and resigning, and I can definitely understand why – it’s exhausting. Unleash it,” he said. “We’ve seen our predecessors, mentors, people we’ve seen speak at conferences for years, resign, and understandably so, but we’re not afraid to step into those positions. We will not go blind.”

A new generation of researchers is entering senior positions with extensive experience. survey of local election officials conducted last year by the Elections and Voting Information Center at Reed College in Oregon. New election officials had an average of eight years of experience; new officers in large jurisdictions had an average of 11 years of experience.

Public attacks and heavy workload

In interviews, election officials who have left their jobs in recent years said their decisions were based on many factors, but that public attacks and scrutiny particularly weighed on their experiences.

“I still love elections,” said Teresa DeGraaf, former clerk of Port Sheldon Township, Michigan. “But it has changed. I have never had so many sleepless nights. I would wake up at 3 in the morning and you feel like you’re under a microscope and like everything you do is being watched. “We had people who sat in our parking lot at 2 o’clock in the morning and looked at our box before the election.”

Joe Debney, 44, of Charleston County, South Carolina, has resigned from running the December 2020 county election.

“After 2020, you can go home and people will question you in your own home. Your family members around Thanksgiving dinner or Christmas time, we trust you, Joe, but we’re not so sure we trust the rest of the United States,” he said.

Another factor that can lead to resignations is that the work is more complex and time-consuming.

In the past few years, many states’ election codes have been overhauled numerous times, including changes to mail-in voting and new restrictions stemming from unfounded fears of fraud.

Isaac Kramer, who succeeded Debney in Charleston County, said South Carolina’s election code doesn’t integrate special elections into the current election calendar and doesn’t allow officials in his state to sometimes hold multiple elections a week. He said it has burned out election workers, and he knows of several other election directors in the state after a string of resignations this year, as many have resigned.

Kramer said that after three years in the top job, he believes he is one of the top officials in the state. He said that when there are nuances in the law, there is no one more experienced than him.

Debney said, “There is a learning curve. Thank God we have people like Isaac who are contacting those countries and trying to work with them and give them the tools to succeed.”

Debney, who previously worked with the South Carolina Election Commission, said there was a similar influx of election directors when the state upgraded its voting system. He traveled the state, training and supporting officials, talking about nuances and best practices.

“If those things don’t happen, I think there could be some pitfalls,” he said.

Debney now runs the local YMCA and serves on the Board of Elections in his home county of Dorchester, South Carolina. On Election Day in November, she will support her county’s election director.

“I really miss it,” she said. “What I did was good. It helped not only our society, but our state and nation as a whole.”



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