2020 Elections Oral History Project from SIO
The Guardians of Democracy
Election officials are rarely in the spotlight. They toil day after day, hour after hour in preparation for the several times every year when their voters head to the polls — or their mailboxes — to cast their votes and have their voices heard. Election officials know they have done their job well when, in the aftermath of each election, their names are nowhere to be found in the headlines.
The 2020 election placed them at the center of national attention in a way not seen in decades — if ever. A global pandemic brought the systems and people that run elections to the brink. In the face of unprecedented challenges, election administrators buckled down and worked with their communities to keep voters — and their votes — safe. Record turnout and a smooth election day validated election officials' incredible work and commitment to risking their own health and safety to get this monumental challenge done.
The reward for their professionalism and bravery? A massive mis- and disinformation campaign targeting the integrity of the election and those who administered it. Following election day, narrative after bad-faith narrative took aim at election officials, often culminating in months of personal threats against their lives and the lives of their family members.
Election officials describing personal threats made against them:
Barbara Cegavske, Secretary of State of Nevada
Tina Barton, Senior Program Advisor at the US Election Assistance Commission
Al Schmidt, Philadelphia City Commissioner
This oral history and corresponding policy paper attempts to capture their experiences and offer a path forward for healing the election community and protecting our democracy. By telling the on-the-ground story of election officials in their own voices, we seek to tell the story of those guardians of democracy who administered and secured this election, and, as a result, were the targets of unprecedented, baseless, and heinous attacks.
"It became very clear that their agenda was not to get to the truth, but to smear our credibility and perpetuate this message that there has to be fraud."
Joe Gloria, Registrar of Voters in Clark County, Nevada