The Election Assistance Commission (EAC) collects data on the administration of federal elections. In its most recent survey, EAC data shows that during the 2016 elections, local election officials operated 116,990 polling locations which were operated by 917,694 poll workers, more than half of whom were over the age of 60. Nearly 65 percent of jurisdictions reported that it was “very difficult” or “somewhat difficult” to secure enough poll workers, a chore that is becoming increasingly difficult after the 2020 election.
The primary function of the election worker is to ensure and protect the rights of every voter. Duties run the gamut from verifying voter registration to issuing ballots and operating voting equipment to closing polls. Election workers are a critical part of our voting process, without whom we could not establish an accurate, fair system.
Yet, election infrastructure is in decay, with election workers increasingly being attacked for simply doing their jobs. When asked why they take these tedious, thankless positions, election workers explain that they feel it is their civic duty, and they want to ensure access to the ballot. These dedicated public servants are being repaid with threats and abuse.
In June, former Georgia election worker Shaye Moss testified before the House select committee investigating the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol. She stated that after being singled out by President Donald Trump and his allies and falsely accused of election fraud, she lost her reputation and her sense of security. She shared her inspiration for becoming involved in election work: “I’ve always been told by my grandmother how important it is to vote and how people before me, a lot of older people in my family, did not have that right.”
The Brennan Center found that after the 2020 election, one in three election officials reported feeling unsafe, and one in six reported being threatened because of their jobs. Poll workers quit in droves, making it even more difficult to secure our democratic processes.
The commitment to fairness and democracy must continue despite, or perhaps even more so because of, the intensifying threats. Undeterred by the attack on the Capitol, Congress continued their work late into the night, backed by an invisible army of close to 1 million election workers. The process was nearly derailed, but the system worked, and democracy prevailed. We must not take democracy or our unsung hero, the election worker, for granted.