2020 Elections Oral History Project | Peaceful Transition of Power

Peaceful transfers of power are one of the most enduring features of the United States’ political system. Since the eighteenth century, the country has successfully — and without bloodshed — passed the presidency from one administration to the next. The events of the 2020 election, culminating on January 6, have thrown this tradition into jeopardy. We asked election officials, those who stand as the guardians of our democracy, their thoughts. Did we have a peaceful transfer of power? 

Some said we had a peaceful transition...

Frank LaRose, Ohio Secretary of State, speaking with Matt Masterson

Some were more ambivilent...

"The transfer of power was certainly abnonrmal”

"The transfer of power was certainly abnonrmal”

Katie Hobbs, Secretary of State, Arizona

“I didn’t feel the job was done until January 20th, 2021…for me that was the relief. There were a lot of very concerning events that both got us there and continue on today.”

“I didn’t feel the job was done until January 20th, 2021…for me that was the relief. There were a lot of very concerning events that both got us there and continue on today.”

Chris Krebs, former Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Agency (CISA) Director

A still of a zoom interview with Megan Wolf.

“It was tumultuous…everything from our recounts to how elections were certified...people did not agree.”

Meagan Wolfe, Wisconsin Elections Commission Administrator

Many, however, offered a resounding no.

"It's tough to look at that and call it peaceful."

"It's tough to look at that and call it peaceful."

David H. Stafford, Escambia County Supervisor of Elections

"I don’t think anyone can look at what happened at our US Capitol on January 6th when congress was gathered to certify a presidential election and the violence that endued and the deaths that occurred, and say that was a peaceful transition of power."

"I don’t think anyone can look at what happened at our US Capitol on January 6th when congress was gathered to certify a presidential election and the violence that endued and the deaths that occurred, and say that was a peaceful transition of power."

Jocelyn Benson, Michigan Secretary of State

“I still don’t know that we have peace about it, whether it was the physical piece of the transition, or whether it’s the mental piece of that.”

“I still don’t know that we have peace about it, whether it was the physical piece of the transition, or whether it’s the mental piece of that.”

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

“I was reading a report that something like 249 officers were injured, which is a stunning statistic…and we still have an old man in Florida claiming to be the President of the United States.”

“I was reading a report that something like 249 officers were injured, which is a stunning statistic…and we still have an old man in Florida claiming to be the President of the United States.”

Jessica Huseman, Editorial Director of VoteBeat, lead reporter for ProPublica’s Electionland project

“A national identity was lost, and how do we regain it? Because I think it’s part of the healing we have to do as a nation…if we don’t, I think we’ve forever lost that part of our character.”

“A national identity was lost, and how do we regain it? Because I think it’s part of the healing we have to do as a nation…if we don’t, I think we’ve forever lost that part of our character.”

Matt Masterson, former Senior Cybersecurity Advisor at the Department of Homeland Security

As Masterson suggests, the consequences of the answer to this question are immense. They can be difficult, however, to address when the forces that contributed to the violence on January 6th are still at work. 

“Election administrators stood guard against attempts to undermine the election….the terrible heartbreaking injustice is we should be incredibly proud of our democracy, and celebrating the heroes of the process.”

Jocelyn Benson, Michigan Secretary of State

We need to do more to protect and support the heroes of the process, our elections, and our democracy. We need to not only call out lies, but make real changes to the policies that govern our elections and impact the lives of those who run them. We have reached a tipping point. And we need to do something to change directions and save American democracy. 

Acknowledgements:

We could not have completed this project without the help of several people that generously donated their time to us. We would first like to thank our interviewees, the lifeblood of this work: Kathy Boockvar, Al Schmidt, Tina Barton, Chris Krebs, Jessica Huseman, Joe Gloria, Katie Hobbs, Meagan Wolfe, Jocelyn Benson, David Stafford, Barbara Cegavske, Gabriel Sterling, Kimberly Wyman, Ben Hovland, and Frank LaRose. We would also like to thank those that kindly reviewed and provided feedback on our work: Pam Fessler, Carly Miller, Josh Goldstein, Jack Cable, Ashwin Ramaswami, Karen Nershi, Elena Cryst and Ryan Macias.