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Anna Kellar is the executive director of the League of Women Voters of Maine.
Election workers are essential workers who support our communities — like nurses, grocery store workers, letter carriers and firefighters. They’re our friends, neighbors and fellow community members — and our democracy depends on them. They work overtime to ensure that every eligible voter has a chance to participate and that every vote is counted accurately.
Throughout the deadly pandemic, our municipal clerks and poll workers have put their health and safety on the line to ensure that the rest of us are able to cast our votes safely.
We need to show our election workers that they are appreciated — and ensure they have the support and resources they need to do their jobs.
Recently, a new study from the Brennan Center for Justice found that 1 in 5 election administrators are likely to leave their jobs before the 2024 presidential election. This is a result of the disrespect, harassment and even death threats that election officials are receiving from members of their communities as a result of the “Big Lie.” This burden is falling disproportionately on women: Nearly 80 percent of election officials nationwide are women.
We applaud the Maine Legislature for passing two bills that support our clerks. In this session, LD 1821 would enhance reporting and prosecution for harassing an election official, as well as giving election officials new skills to deal with harassment and threats. LD 1779 requires that clerks retain possession, custody and control of sealed ballots, keeping them in a secure location, with any inspection subject to oversight by an appropriate public official. It also prohibits the transfer of custody or control of a voting machine or voting device to any person except as authorized by the secretary of state. In these times of increasing threats and attempts at election subversion from a few bad actors, it is important to plug any gaps that could be exploited.
In 2021, the Legislature passed an important bill to support post-election audits and training. Most states backstop their elections with routine post-election audits. The value of these audits for our election process is widely acknowledged. Audits are one of the most important measures the state can take to safeguard our democracy and ensure that it merits the full and unconditional confidence of the public. We were pleased to see this bill funded in the governor’s supplemental budget proposal and urge the Legislature to work together to get it done.
These are important steps we can take at the state level, but it’s also essential for the federal government, as well as the state, to provide the financial resources necessary for our secretary of state and municipal clerks to have the staff and resources they need to run our local elections with resilience and confidence — with enough resources to absorb unexpected circumstances and without stretching key personnel to the breaking point.
In the omnibus funding bill recently passed by Congress, Maine will get $1 million to support our elections. This is a start, but it falls far short of what is needed.
For decades, the Maine secretary of state and election officials around the country have worked heroically while chronically underfunded and understaffed. These challenges have only grown in recent years — from safeguarding systems and databases against malicious intrusion to maintaining equipment that is growing more and more outdated; from adapting our voting systems to an increasingly online, mobile electorate to providing more rigorous data management within our state and across state lines. The Center for Technology and Civic Life recommends that $20 billion be invested nationwide in election infrastructure over the next decade to meet these challenges and secure our freedom to vote.
The White House’s budget announced on March 28 includes $10 billion for election infrastructure. We call on all our federal officials to support this budget line and make the needed investments in our democracy.
Let’s come together to thank our election workers. Let them know how grateful we are that they count every vote and protect our good election laws and our freedom to vote. Let’s ensure that they have the protection, training, and resources they need to stay on the job.
And the next time you visit your town office, take an extra minute to say thank you to your municipal clerk and their staff.