Nearly one-third of KS election officials have left since ‘20

Making sure the poll workers do everything right is always important for conducting a safe and secure election, but next year their actions will be under a microscope



November 16, 2023 - 3:57 PM

Amid conspiracy theories and ongoing scrutiny from the public and state lawmakers, Kansas election officials are preparing for a hectic vote in 2024. Photo by KANSAS NEWS SERVICE/DYLAN LYSEN

Democratic Douglas County Clerk Jamie Shew spent weeks preparing volunteers to serve at polling places for the recent local elections in Kansas.
At the county’s election offices in Lawrence, about a dozen people gathered to get up to speed. Some of the volunteers were experienced poll workers who had served several elections before, while others were newcomers this year.
While Shew focused on what the volunteers may encounter this year, he also hinted at what they should know for the elections in 2024 — the first presidential election since the ultra-contentious 2020 vote.
“So in the smaller elections,” Shew said to the poll workers, “please continue to be as sharp as you will be a year from now.”
Making sure the poll workers do everything right is always important for conducting a safe and secure election, but next year their actions will be under a microscope. After the 2020 election, Republican President Donald Trump repeatedly pushed false claims that voter fraud cost him re-election.
That’s led to state lawmakers and the public scrutinizing the security of elections. And that’s fueling a huge turnover — 35 of the state’s 109 officials have quit since 2020.
The Kansas Legislature’s Special Committee on Elections recently held hearings where advocates for election security changes argued the state’s voting systems are not safe. But it included people lining up to share dubious claims.
Republican Harvey County Clerk Rick Piepho, who serves as a legislative liaison for the Kansas County Clerks and Election Officials Association, chose not to participate in the hearings. He said the committee was only focusing on disinformation and unfounded conspiracy theories.
“I still haven’t seen any evidence,” Piepho said, “from any of these groups that anything that they’re theorizing has actually happened.”
Additionally, Republican Secretary of State Scott Schwab has repeatedly said Kansas elections are safe and secure despite the voter fraud claims from outside groups.
Liz Howard, deputy director for the Brennan Center’s Democracy Program and a former election official in Virginia, said the scrutiny may be causing additional stress to public officials who play a very important role in American democracy. They have no choice but to be ready for 2024.
“Election officials can’t get extensions,” Howard said. “Election Day is coming and they must prepare for it. There are no excuses.”
Shortly after the 2020 election, Douglas County’s deputy clerk who helped with elections left the job. Since then, Shew has had three different deputy clerks.
He said the mass resignation of election workers is partly spurred by the constant criticism over voting security, despite no evidence of widespread fraud.
Shew said the 2020 election was difficult because it occurred at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. He said it was traumatic because election officials felt they were putting their lives on the line.
“And then the response to that was to question and vilify all of us,” Shew said.

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