Election Officials Are Leaving Their Jobs in Startling Numbers—And That’s Bad for Democracy

Many election workers—who are disproportionately women—are deciding the job just is not worth the abuse.

Election judges Tony Groeger (center) and Ann la Plante (right) take the oath with Weld clerk and recorder Carly Koppes (left) before their participating in the accuracy testing of ballots at Weld County Clerks Office in Greeley, Colo., on Oct. 5, 2022. (Hyoung Chang / The Denver Post)

I will admit, after nearly two decades serving as a local election official, sometimes I think I have seen it all. I have conducted elections during tornadoes, dealt with construction crews accidentally cutting power to voting centers, gotten election judges to the polls through hundred-year floods, and had to reprint ballots more than once because a four-legged family member ate them. But the truth is, even after nine years as clerk and recorder for Weld County, every election something happens to remind me: I have not, in fact, seen it all.

Whatever the new challenge is, I rely on my experience and the experience of my colleagues to navigate it and make sure every voter has a chance to be heard. That is why I am concerned to see experienced election workers in Colorado—and across the nation—leaving their posts in record numbers.

A new report by the pro-democracy group Issue One looked at election offices in 11 Western states since the 2020 elections. Once-obscure election workers suddenly became the target of lies—forcing many to quit their jobs to protect themselves, their families and their sanity.

I have experienced the threats and harassment firsthand. So has my staff. And I have seen the toll it takes on all of us. I have even seen a woman with 30 years of experience running elections retire after being publicly insulted at a county meeting by election deniers. Many election workers are deciding the job just is not worth the abuse.

In Colorado, that has led to some alarming statistics:

  • Thirty-eight percent of the state’s counties have a new chief election official since November 2020.
  • Forty-eight percent of Coloradans will see the 2024 election administered by someone other than the official who administered the 2020 election.
  • Perhaps most concerning, officials who left, including many that I worked with, took a combined 314 years of experience with them—part of the more than 1,800 years of combined experience election officials who left their posts in the Western U.S. have taken with them.

They found unprecedented levels of election officials leaving their jobs, pushed out by stress, harassment and death threats that resulted from former President Donald Trump’s claims of a stolen election.

A protester attends the Warriors of the Garden Peaceful Protest Against President Donald Trump’s 74th Birthday that started at Trump International Tower on June 14, 2020, at Columbus Circle in New York City. (Ira L. Black / Corbis via Getty Images)

Take it from me: Challenges will always arise during an election, and we need experienced election workers on the job who can navigate those unexpected curve balls and ensure that every eligible voter gets to participate in our democratic process. 

While states manage their own elections, the election official brain-drain can quickly become a training drain, as the cost of training new officials can be significant. This is especially true for smaller counties with fewer resources. Fully funding our nation’s critical election infrastructure is crucial, in addition to stronger protections for election officials so we can retain more qualified administrators. 

Ultimately, national leaders must step up and show election officials they have our backs. The hard truth is that if our election officials are not safe, neither are our elections. The more qualified, experienced and civic-minded Americans that are driven out of election administration by threats and harassment, the more likely it is that our elections will be compromised. And that is something I do not want to ever see. 

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Carly Koppes is the county clerk and recorder in Weld County, Colorado.