EDITORIAL: Mass exodus of election officials presents real threat to integrity of vote

YORK DISPATCH EDITORIAL BOARD
  • There has been a recent nationwide exodus of election officials.
  • Many are leaving after facing threats and intimidation during the 2020 presidential election.
  • In Pennsylvania, about a third of the state's county election officials have left recently.
FILE - In this Wednesday, Nov. 4, 2020, file photo, election challengers yell as they look through the windows of the central counting board as police were helping to keep additional challengers from entering due to overcrowding, in Detroit. There is no shortage of job openings for election officials in Michigan. And Pennsylvania. And Wisconsin. After facing waves of threats and intimidation during the 2020 election and its aftermath, county officials who run elections are quitting or retiring early as the once quiet job has become a minefield because of the baseless claims of fraud pushed by former President Donald Trump and much of the Republican Party. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio, File)

Free and fair elections are the absolute bedrock of our republic.

Without them, our survival as a nation will be jeopardy.

That’s why the recent Associated Press story about the nationwide exodus of election officials, including many here in Pennsylvania, should be so concerning to all of us.

According to the story, county officials who run elections are quitting or retiring early in droves after facing threats and intimidation during the 2020 presidential election and its aftermath.

Pa. election officials join nationwide exodus, raising concerns of partisanship

Now election officials could even face potential new punishments in certain states.

One frightening paragraph from the AP story reads:

“The once quiet job of election administration has become a political minefield thanks to the baseless claims of widespread fraud that continue to be pushed by many in the Republican Party.”

Conspiracy theorists may fill the void: Even more chilling is the prospect about who might replace the departing officials. Barb Byrum, the clerk of Ingham County, Michigan, has an idea.

"These conspiracy theorists are in it for the long haul. They're in it to completely crumble our republic, and they're looking at these election administrator positions," said Byrum, a Democrat. "They're playing the long game."

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The potential for the partisan politicization of election offices is something that should scare all of us.

Pennsylvania feeling the crunch: This issue is particularly concerning here in Pennsylvania.

The AP reports that about a third of the state's county election officials have left in the last year and a half, according to a spokesperson for the state's county commissioners association, who cited heavy workloads and rampant misinformation related to voting among the reasons.

"It was particularly challenging last year with all the misinformation and angst out there," said Lisa Schaefer, executive director of the ​County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania. "And none of it was caused by county election officials."

We need folks who will fight the good fight: So, what can we do?

Well, the first thing we can do is encourage current, nonpartisan election officials to remain in their jobs and fight the good fight to protect the integrity of our vote.

Second, we can encourage folks of integrity, from both parties, to pursue the low-profile elections offices.

The job will likely become even more difficult: In our current political climate, it’s obviously not an easy job, which may become even more difficult.

Some states are pursuing legislation that imposes new fines or criminal penalties on local election officials or makes it easier to remove them. The AP reports that it’s all part of the GOP campaign to rewrite rules for voting and administering elections.

For instance, a new law in Iowa imposes a $10,000 fine on election administrators for a technical infraction of election rules. A similar law in Florida could lead to $25,000 fines for election supervisors if a ballot drop box is accessible outside early voting hours or is left unsupervised.

Those are harsh penalties for technical violations, and they could prevent good people from pursuing the jobs.

People of good character are needed: Still, nothing truly worthwhile comes easily.

That’s especially true of a democratic republic.

It’s sometimes ugly, and always messy, but it’s the best form of government yet discovered. But it’s dependent on people of good character to step up when needed.

Now is one of those times.

If not, the conspiracy theorists will be more than happy to fill the void.