Interviews with Election Officials from Across the Country

What Should the Voter Do?

Over the past month, I have been interviewing a cross section of election officials from around the country. These are election officials with a deep insight into the election system. Being so close to the election, Lincoln Network wanted to help American voters by presenting the perspective of the public servants who administer our elections. 

I asked common questions like what should the voter do if the voting center is congested, if someone asks for your ballot, or if the voter registration system fails. With so many new absentee voters, I asked about the possibility of these voters changing their mind and wanting to vote in-person. 

For each of these situations, I wanted to get the local state perspective. There are some variations according to their state election laws. Some states like Washington lean heavily on absentee or voting by mail. Only a few percentage of their voters vote in-person. While in Tennessee, it is flipped and only a few percentage of their voters vote absentee. I did stray a bit into some issues like local reforms and providing the best information possible for the voters. I have taken some of the meaningful quotes to highlight each of the state’s approaches. 

Kim Wyman, Washington Secretary of State: “We really started moving towards vote by mail back in the 1990’s. We allowed any voter to become a permanent absentee voter and … by about 1997 or so about 60 percent of our voters were choosing to vote by mail every election… It still took our state six years to completely transition and in 2011, all 39 counties had moved to vote by mail elections… The counties can now in live time compare, and so, if you had walked into an election office on election day at 5 o’clock you can pull up that record and see if you have already returned a ballot or not. And you haven’t they can issue you one. And it is really empowering.” Lincoln Shorts Ep20, Ep21, Ep22, Ep23, Ep24, Ep25

Bilenda Harris-Ritter, Arkansas State Board Election Commissioner: “I would take out my trusty phone … and call the county elections board and say hey … the line is really long here. Is there other voter centers where there are no lines? … In my state, and I think it probably similar in other states, each county election board has a website that you can go to. But it might be even faster to go to the Secretary of State’s website and get your county information from that website. Should be able to direct you with information on exactly where your polling place is. And if your county has moved to vote centers then it would tell you that as well.” Lincoln Shorts Ep05, Ep06, Ep07

Jordan Fuchs, Georgia Deputy Secretary of State: “We have a very decentralized system in the state of Georgia and that is on purpose. Your local officials who are your neighbors, you go to church with them, those are the people who are counting your ballots making decisions about where polling places are located. And they are making decisions on how many voting machines are in each location. So that is very important to know, because when you hear the conversation of vote suppressing or anything like that it is a fear tactic that is pure disinformation… It has never been easier in the state of Georgia to vote. We have the highest turnout records we have ever seen.”   Lincoln Shorts Ep40, Ep41, Ep42, Ep43, Ep44

Justin Roebuck, Michigan Ottawa County Clerk/Register: “If the voter registration system fails on election day, we have a number of backup scenarios. So each county in the state of Michigan has a server backup of the voter registration data… But what we also do in addition to that is every precinct has a paper copy of the poll book so this is the old school version where a lot of people are used to … in a binder” Lincoln Shorts Ep35, Ep36, Ep37, Ep38, Ep39

Aaron Ockerman, Executive Director of the Ohio Association of Election Officials: “Transparency and privacy are somewhat mutually exclusive terms, so it is always a balancing act in the elections world to provide that transparency to the public but assure the voters that … their ballot is going to be cast privately and they are going to be cast it free from undue influence or intimidation…” Lincoln Shorts Ep13, Ep14, Ep15, Ep34

Tre Hargett, Tennessee Secretary of State: “First and foremost, they want to make sure the voter gets the opportunity to vote … we really want to err on the side of the voter at the same time we want to protect voter integrity… Election officials across this country are doing their best in a difficult environment. And during this pandemic our focus is knowing that most Tennessians are going to still want to vote in person. And so we have worked hard to increase the number of early voting sites as well as hours to try and achieve social distancing.” Lincoln Shorts Ep29, Ep30, Ep31, Ep32, Ep33

Matt Dunlap, Maine Secretary of State: “In Maine, we don’t have voting centers, we have our elections run at the town level. So we have 503 municipalities that are responsible for the administration of local, county, state, and federal elections. Our job at the Secretary of State office is to support the towns. We print all the ballots, do the training, we provide equipment, like tabulating machines. We maintain the central voter registration system. When you fill out a paper registration card it is scanned into the system.”  Lincoln Shorts Ep16, Ep17, Ep18, Ep19

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