Harassment of election officials, misinformation, excessive public information requests, and frivolous lawsuits are driving many experienced poll workers into retirement and making it hard to recruit new ones.
Those were some of the election administration problems that the Senate Rules Committee heard about on March 28.
Committee Chairperson Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) opened the two-hour hearing by citing a recent study, which found that one in three election workers are concerned about their safety and one in six have actually been threatened.
“We must support our election officials,” she said.
A good way to start solving the problems facing election administration, said Klobuchar, is to “tackle the spread of misinformation on social media.”
Protecting American elections against foreign interference and preserving the use of “secure” ballot drop boxes against Republican efforts to get rid of all of them rank high on her list of necessary actions.
She told the hearing that “Ease of voting is a big deal” and that same-day voter registration has greatly increased voter turnout.
Klobuchar supports more federal funds for state and local election administration.
But ranking member Sen. Deb Fischer (R-Neb.) said that, “States have the primary responsibility to administer elections.”
Opposed to what she calls a “one-size-fits-all federal takeover of elections,” Fischer said, “Security is better with decentralized administration.
“Every state should set up and monitor their own elections, focusing on things that work for them.”
Fischer acknowledged that the loss of experienced election workers is a problem and advocated for an increased effort to recruit, train, and retain dedicated workers.
Election Officials are Calling it Quits
Sen. Alex Padilla (D-Calif.) stated that, nationwide, one in three election workers have left their positions.
New Mexico’s Democrat Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver testified that six election workers in her state were the targets of drive-by shootings and several reported being followed home. She did not say if any were injured.
Oliver also complained of county clerks being inundated with requests by “self-described detectives” for information that the local officials “don’t even use” in the course of their job.
She labeled the practice as a “weaponization of public records requests,” which is often accompanied by “threatening and harassing activity.”
In response, New Mexico has stiffened its penalties for threatening election officials.
Oliver identified persistent staffing issues and outdated equipment and technology as two of the big problems in the conduct of New Mexico elections.
Another problem, Oliver said, is the need for “more equity” in access to mail-in voting.
“Colorado has made it easy for everybody to vote without compromising security. In 2022, 95 percent of Colorado voters voted by mail,” said Sen. Michael Bennett (D-Colo.).
A fan of mail-in voting himself, Bennett said he liked it because it gave him more time to study complex ballot proposals than he had when he voted in person.
Fischer said that people in sparsely populated states that live great distances from polling places need to be able to vote by mail.
Bennett lamented that there were 80 bills offered in 23 states to limit voting by mail.
Padilla called for a federal standard to “allow all eligible voters to vote by mail,” while preserving in-person voting as an option.
Marcia Johnson, of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, told the hearing voting by mail is “a very secure form of voting.”
Oliver agreed, stating that since 2000, Oregon sent out 100 million vote-by-mail ballots, of which only a handful was found to be fraudulent.
Consistent Federal Funding
Oliver argued that the “key” to solving problems with state and local election administration is for the federal government to “provide consistent funding streams.”
South Carolina Elections Commissioner Howard Knapp agreed, saying, “consistent, predictable, federal funding” would help solve many of the problems highlighted in the hearing.
Knapp reported that his state will be the first in the nation to conduct a Democrat presidential primary in 2024.
Knapp also testified that recent surveys have found that 85 percent of South Carolina’s voters are confident in the fairness of their elections, as opposed to only 66 percent nationally.
Yet, he said, there is a segment of his state’s population “that’s not going to believe anything we say.”
Nebraska Secretary of State Robert Evnen, a Republican, told the committee that, pursuant to the U.S. Constitution, the responsibility of administering elections lies with the states.
He said that his state’s installation of electronic cyber-security monitoring devices designed to detect intrusion into voting machines has allayed the concerns of many about e;ection security.
Confidence in Nebraska’s elections result was also bolstered by the adoption of a mandatory voter ID law and an audit program of hand-counting ballots from a sampling of precincts after every election.
Out of 48,000 ballots examined after the midterm election, 22 irregularities were discovered and there was “a 29-vote variation” between the number of votes cast and votes counted, he said.
He added that early voting does presents the challenges of increased opportunity for “vote buying and intimidation.”
Thirty Seconds to Steal a Vote
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) used his time to note that voting laws must be “neutrally applied.”
He said recent problems have been caused by partisan-minded state courts that “skew their own laws.”
According to Cruz, photo voter ID is not “an onerous requirement,” at a time when “in 30 seconds, you can steal someone else’s vote.”
States Seek to Suppress the Vote
Advocate Johnson testified that, since the record voter turnout of the 2020 presidential election, a number of states have passed laws to allegedly restrict voter turnout.
She decried the Republican government’s pre-midterm election election integrity reforms in favor of expanding early voting across the state, which Democrats claimed challenged the voter registrations of large numbers of people and suppressed the vote.
“We must make sure we have a high turnout across the country,” she said.
However, the midterm elections in Georgia ended up seeing a record voter turnout.
Election ‘Myths’ and ‘The Big Lie’
Johnson added that, in the 2022 midterms, “a disturbing trend of voter intimidation around ballot drop boxes” was observed in places around the country.
“Election myths and disinformation encourage bad actors to intimidate voters, particularly voters of color,” she said.
Sen. Padilla said the question for state and local elections officials is, “Are you prepared for the challenges the Big Lie will cause in the 2024 elections?”
Evnen encouraged young people concerned about fair elections to become poll workers.
Familiarity with the process will grow public confidence in the system, he said.