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There is no shortage of job openings for local election officials in Michigan. It's the same in Pennsylvania. Wisconsin, too. And an elections leader in Iowa earlier this spring retired early out of frustration.
After facing threats and intimidation during the 2020 presidential election and its aftermath, and now the potential of new punishments in certain states, county officials who run elections are quitting or retiring early.
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.
"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 Democrat Barb Byrum, clerk of Ingham County, Michigan. "They're playing the long game."
It's difficult to quantify exactly how many election officials across the country have left and why, since the departures are not generally tallied. Retirements also are common after presidential elections. But in places that do track such information, along with anecdotal accounts from county officials, it is clear that many have recently left because of the newfound partisan rancor around the jobs and the threats many local election workers faced leading up to the November election and afterward as former President Donald Trump and his allies challenged the results.
In Davenport, Democratic Scott County Auditor Roxanna Moritz retired earlier than expected in April after 14 years on the job — and just five months after being reelected. On her way out, she blasted local supervisors for a lack of support in last year’s elections and cited Iowa’s new elections law, which among other things threatens local election officials with jail time and fines.
“I was going to retire anyway (in December), this just cemented it,” Moritz told the Quad City Times. “ … My office is walking on eggshells.”
The GOP-controlled Scott County Board of Supervisors appointed a Republican to replace her after local Democrats failed to gather enough signatures on a petition to call for a special election.
In Pennsylvania, about a third of the county election officials have left in the last year and a half, according to a spokesman 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."
The executive director of a clerks association in Wisconsin said more than two-dozen clerks have retired since the presidential election and another 30 clerks or their deputies quit by the end of 2020. Thirteen have left since the beginning of this year. In Michigan, Byrum said she didn't know a precise number of newly vacant positions but was able to rattle off several election officials who recently left.
The local election jobs are being vacated as Trump's false claims of fraud persist within the GOP and provide a platform for his loyalists to launch campaigns to become top election officials in several swing states.
In Georgia, U.S. Rep. Jody Hice, a Trump recruit who voted to overturn the presidential results in the U.S. House, is challenging Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, a Republican who has been attacked by his own party for upholding President Joe Biden's victory.
Arizona state Rep. Mark Finchem, who was at the Jan. 6 rally outside the Capitol and is a chief supporter of a partisan review of ballots in Maricopa County, is running for secretary of state. Former Nevada lawmaker Jim Marchant, who has clung to the conspiracy theory that the election was stolen from Trump, is campaigning to replace Republican Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske. She can't run again because of term limits.
Sylvia Albert, voting and elections director for Common Cause, which advocates for expanded voter access, said that while the statewide positions come with more power, local officials generally have much discretion over how to solve common Election Day issues such as long lines, voter roll problems or trouble with voting machines.
"If you have an elections official who doesn't want to expand access to the ballot, who finds democracy disturbing to them, they're not going to fix problems and then they're going to multiply," she said.
The exodus comes as Republicans in a number of states including Iowa pursue legislation that imposes new fines or criminal penalties on local election officials.
Just last week, the Iowa Secretary of State’s Office issued two notices of technical violations against Moritz. She was accused, among other things, of falsifying working hours for poll workers to justify paying them more before the June 2020 primary when the coronavirus pandemic made it difficult to recruit help. Moritz previously said she made a mistake and thought she had the authority, as she had money within her budget to do so.
There is no fine associated with the technical infractions as Moritz' actions took place before the changes to Iowa elections law. But under the new law, county election officials could face felony charges including jail time and a fine of up to $10,000 for a technical infraction of the law or failure to follow guidance from the Secretary of State.
Tom Barton of the Quad City Times contributed.