2020 Elections Oral History Project | The Aftermath

Over the course of the next two months, election officials found themselves thrust into a firestorm. Not only did they have to continue to fight against blatant lies from high-ranking politicians, but they faced another, frightening concern — threats against their lives. 

Election officials describing death threats against them and their families

Tina Barton, Senior Program Advisor at the US Election Assistance Commission

Tina Barton, Senior Program Advisor at the US Election Assistance Commission

Mark Wlaschin, Deputy Secretary of State for Elections, Nevada

Mark Wlaschin, Deputy Secretary of State for Elections, Nevada

Joe Gloria,  Registrar of Voters in Clark County, Nevada

Joe Gloria,  Registrar of Voters in Clark County, Nevada

“The thing that I remember most vividly is how many election administrators, especially the closer November got, would just call me on the phone just to be sad. Which made me really heartsick.”

Jessica Huseman, Journalist and lead reporter for ProPublica’s Electionland project

This unrest ultimately culminated in an armed insurrection at the U.S. Capitol on January 6th, 2021, resulting in five deaths. None of the individuals we interviewed were present, but Secretary Wyman experienced the unrest in Washington state.

“By January 6th, it was starting to come off the rails. We were having weekly Trump rallies at the capital. They were starting to get ugly.”

Secretary of State Kim Wyman, Washington State

The insurrection was ultimately unsuccessful, and on January 20, 2021, Joe Biden was inaugurated as the United States’ 46th President. But the mis- and disinformation campaigns have not stopped. The country had a successful transition of power--but for many, the unrest of the election has not dissipated. Many election officials are still receiving death threats, and some localities have continued to have the results of the 2020 election questioned. 

 

One of the best examples of this is in Maricopa County, AZ. In the spring of 2021, some Republicans in the Arizona State Senate called for a review of the ballots and voting systems used in the election. Despite there being no evidence of fraud, they declared that it was necessary to answer the questions voters had about the security of the election. Led by a contractor who had shared election conspiracies on his social media accounts, the audit proceeded to be undertaken with little attention paid to consistent or proper policy or procedure. Not only were no election officials or contractors familiar with elections included, but those who were in charge mishandled ballots. In one glaring example, volunteers were allowed to bring blue and black pens to the tables where ballots were being recounted, leading to uncertainty about whether they had been altered, destroyed, or added to the count. The only people in Maricopa County who threatened the integrity and security of the election were those who, inspired by misinformation and disinformation, forcibly involved themselves without care for proper policy. The results of their efforts ultimately proved the futility of their dangerous involvement--not only did the recount confirm that President Biden won the election in Maricopa County, but it also revealed that no fraud had occurred during the election. 

“At this point the chain of custody has been completely corrupted. They have now moved the ballots twice. And they are being stored in a place that is not acceptable for storage; it’s being swamp cooled.”

Katie Hobbs, Secretary of State, Arizona

All of these conditions make it difficult for election officials to do their jobs. The result is that they are leaving their roles in record numbers. 

 

Mark Wlaschin, Nevada Secretary of State

Mark Wlaschin, Nevada Secretary of State

Joe Gloria, Registrar of Voters in Clark County, Nevada

Joe Gloria, Registrar of Voters in Clark County, Nevada

Although it has been nearly a year since the election, the long-term consequences–the damages to our democracy and institutions — of 2020 are far from certain. 

 

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