Election workers continue to face threats after Trump’s false election claims

After former President Trump’s false claims about fraudulent 2020 election results, local and state elections officials continue to face unprecedented pressures ahead of this year's midterms, including wide-scale threats. New Mexico Secretary of State Maggie Tolouse Oliver, a Democrat, and former Kentucky Secretary of State Trey Grayson, a Republican, join Judy Woodruff to discuss the challenges.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    As we have been reporting, local and state election officials have faced and continue to face unprecedented pressures. Nearly one in three knows someone — and we just heard this referred to by Lisa — know someone who's left their job because of threats or fears for their safety. That's according to a survey released by the Brennan Center for Justice.

    I'm joined now by two people who have experienced those challenges.

    New Mexico Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver, a Democrat, has battled with election deniers in her state. And former Kentucky Secretary of State Trey Grayson, he is advising local officials who are preparing for potentially contentious elections this fall.

    Welcome to both of you. We appreciate your being here.

    Ms. Oliver, let me start with you.

    What stood out today. When you listened to what these election officials had to say, what stood out to you the most about what you heard?

    Maggie Toulouse Oliver, New Mexico Secretary of State: Thank you, Judy, for having us here. And thank you for the question.

    I think that I could relate very deeply to a lot of what Secretary Raffensperger, Gabe Sterling, the election workers, the speaker of the House of Arizona — I had been personally through a lesser version, shall we save, of what they have gone through. And it's just as deeply disconcerting and troubling for me.

    But I also will say that every single thing that was said today really hit the nail on the head, particularly the Arizona speaker of the House when he referred to not being willing to violate his oath of office, particularly on the basis of feelings and assumptions, and not evidence. That was really, I think, critical testimony that we heard today.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Former Kentucky Secretary of State Trey Grayson, what resonated the most with you from what you heard today?

    Trey Grayson, Former Kentucky Secretary of State: It was — actually, it was the election workers from Fulton County.

    I was more familiar with what Secretary Raffensperger was going to say, as well as the speaker from Arizona. But seeing those two women, the one in person and the one on video, we need folks like that. That's how we run our elections. It's low pay. They're volunteers. There's thousands of them across the country.

    They didn't sign up to get harassed or have to move out of their house. That was really moving testimony. And actually watching your coverage, I teared up a little bit just listening to the two of them, because our system doesn't function without folks like that.

    And, in some respects, elected officials, state election directors, people like that, we have kind of signed up to have thicker skin and to deal with this. But those who are just making things work on the ground, counting votes on election night, wow, that was such stirring testimony.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    It was very hard not to tear up listening to the women who worked as election officials, election workers in the state of Georgia.

    Secretary of State Oliver, in New Mexico, how much training do most election officials go through? Is there a standard for what you have to learn before you work in elections?

  • Maggie Toulouse Oliver:

    Sure. There's the standard. And they go through a certain amount of training. It's not very much.

    If you're a brand-new election worker, if you have never done this job before, depending on what county you're working in and how complicated the individual processes are, you may go through three to five hours of training, some additional online training.

    Of course, for the election workers that come back year after year, they have been through training many times and they have been through actual elections many times. And so this is an incredibly important reason why we need to retain our election workers, because these are not necessarily full-time workers.

    They don't live and breathe elections. They're essentially volunteers that come out once or twice a year to help run citizen-run democracy. And the more experience they get, of course, the better they are at their jobs and the more that they know.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And just picking up on that, to you, former Secretary of State Trey Grayson, as we introduced you from Kentucky, I jotted down — now I can't find it — the statistics from Lisa Desjardins that something like one in six election workers have experienced a threat.

    One in five, I hope I'm getting that right, are thinking of leaving. Or maybe I have it the other way around. Tell me, does that surprise you?

  • Trey Grayson:

    Well, you will find this ironic.

    So, today I'm in Owensboro, Kentucky, attending the Kentucky Country Clerks Association Summer Conference. And at — today, they announced the 20 percent of Kentucky's county clerks — those are the elected officials in Kentucky that are the chief election administrators, among other duties — 20 percent of them are retiring this year.

    So, even in a non-battleground state like Kentucky, we're seeing this. And they had trouble recruiting poll workers in our recently concluded May primary, because a lot of folks wanted to step aside.

    Now, there's other reasons why. The pandemic and some of the public health concerns certainly played a role. But these threats and these, is it really worth it to go through all this, it's changed the dynamic of elections.

    And so it's unfortunate, but the impact is going to be felt on the Republicans and Democrats at the at the local level. And these clerks are sometimes questioning, why am I doing this? This isn't worth it. I have got family got kids. I will go hang out with them. I will go find another job. I will find another way to contribute.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, Secretary of State Oliver, what does that mean for this fall elections? These are the midterm elections. As we all know, all elections matter. These matter.

    What does all this mean, do you think?

  • Maggie Toulouse Oliver:

    It means that our county clerks here in New Mexico — that's who administers the elections on the ground — they're going to be struggling to recruit poll workers.

    And, again, keep in mind, we can't have an election without these nonpartisan, bipartisan, multipartisan groups of people. These are friends and neighbors, folks who are just dedicated to doing their civic duty, who come out and give up their time for very little money, if any, to help run our elections.

    So they're going to really struggle to make sure they have the staffing necessary to support every voter that comes out to cast a ballot in person and to process all of the mail ballots in our state and other states.

    And these county clerks already have a very big, very challenging job. And so not being able to find enough individuals to conduct our democratic process, it is a real threat to our democratic process.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And just a final word from you, Former Secretary Grayson.

  • Trey Grayson:

    Well, I'm a Republican, so this hits me really personally.

    And it bothers me to see members of my party applying this much pressure, without evidence, without facts, without the law, and the negative consequence it's having. And that's one of the reasons why I continue to speak out about this. We need the folks in my party to stop doing this. And we also don't want to lay a predicate to maybe give permission to the Democrats to do this if they found themselves in a similar situation.

    Our democracy is at risk.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Very powerful words.

    Former Kentucky Secretary of State Trey Grayson, Maggie Toulouse Oliver, who is the current secretary of state in New Mexico, thank you both very much.

  • Maggie Toulouse Oliver:

    Thank you.

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