On the Issues with Michele Goodwin

65. Women Saving Democracy: On the Front Lines of the Election (with Natalie Adona, Tonya Wichman and Kathy Holland)


September 29, 2022

With Guests:

  • Natalie Adona: Natalie Adona is the county clerk-recorder elect and former assistant clerk-recorder/registrar of voters for Nevada County, Calif. She previously worked as the senior research and learning associate for the elections program at Democracy Fund, where she co-authored the reports “Understanding the Voter Experience” and “Stewards of Democracy.”
  • Tonya Wichman: Tonya Wichman is the director of the Defiance County Board of Elections in Defiance, Ohio, and a certified elections and registration administrator.
  • Kathy Holland: Kathy Holland was the director of the Alamance County Board of Elections for over 31 years until she retired in 2021. She served in eight presidential elections, and was the president of the North Carolina Association of Directors of Elections.

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In this Episode:

On today’s show, we’re delving into the lives and work of the women coming together to save our democracy. Election administration has become one of the most challenging jobs in the U.S. government. One in three election officials reports feeling unsafe because of their job. Americans are doubting the legitimacy of our elections, despite the fact that experts described the 2020 election as the “most secure” in American history.

In the face of these fundamental challenges to our democracy—and in an environment increasingly characterized by political polarization—how can we protect our elections, and support our elections officials?

This special episode of On the Issues with Michele Goodwin is presented in conjunction with Ms. Magazine’s “Women Saving Democracy” platform, produced in collaboration with the Brennan Center for Justice and RepresentWomen. Explore the whole project—featuring reported pieces, firsthand accounts from election officials, video events with women political leaders, and more—here

Have a topic you’d like us to delve into, a guest recommendationor just want to say hi? Drop us a line at ontheissues@msmagazine.com.

Background Reading:


0:00:00 Michele Goodwin:
Welcome to On the Issues with Michele Goodwin at Ms. Magazine, a show where we report, rebel, and you know we tell it just like it is. On this show, we center your concerns about rebuilding our nation and advancing the promise of equality. So, join me as we tackle the most compelling issues of our times. On our show, history matters. We examine the past as we think about the future. 

On today’s show, we’re delving into the lives and work of the women who are coming together to save our democracy. Election administration has become one of the most challenging jobs in the U.S. Government. One in three election officials reports feeling unsafe because of their job. Americans are doubting the legitimacy of our elections despite the fact that experts have described the 2020 election as the most secure in American history. 

We start this special episode with a powerful testimony from Ms. Ruby Freeman. She worked in Georgia as an election official, something that she was proud of, and like many election officials, did because she cares about our democracy. So, let’s take a listen as she provides testimony before the January 6th Commission about her experiences with the 2020 election.

0:01:25 Ruby Freeman Recording:

I’ve lost my name and I’ve lost my reputation. I’ve lost my sense of security all because a group of people, starting with number 45, and his ally, Rudy Giuliani, decided to scapegoat me and my daughter Shaye to push their own lies about how the presidential election was stolen.

There is nowhere I feel safe, nowhere. Do you know how it feels to have the President of the United States to target you? The President of the United States is supposed to represent every American, not to target one, but he targeted me, Lady Ruby, a small business owner, a mother, a proud American citizen, who stand up to help Fulton County run an election in the middle of the pandemic.

0:02:35 Michele Goodwin:

Sadly, Ms. Freeman’s testimony is neither unique or isolated in the wake of efforts to overturn the 2020 election or to cast doubt on election officials that certified votes leading to the defeat of Donald Trump in the presidential election of 2020. So, I want to issue a trigger warning for this episode. 

Our elections have gotten rough, really tough. Now, not only voter suppression and gerrymandering but threats against election officials, threats embedded in emails, left on voicemails, and actual physical assaults. Here I’m joined by Natalie Adona, whom you’ll be hearing from in the episode, the County Clerk-Recorder Elect and former assistant clerk recorder and registrar of voters for Nevada County, California. Here she is talking about being one of the few people of color in her county and one of the few to hold a leadership position, and she was assaulted while doing her job.

0:03:39 Natalie Adona:

All of this with, you know, the doubts about the 2020 election and the county’s COVID-19 policies, which I had enforced in my office, and you know, it sort of led to this incident where someone on my staff was assaulted. So, I had become a target.

0:04:01 Michele Goodwin: 

Yeah. In fact, you mentioned, you told, I guess, LA Times that you were concerned about the wellbeing of your staff.

0:04:09 Natalie Adona:

Yeah. No. They were deeply concerned by this incident where people had basically pushed their way through to my office, stormed in. We didn’t know what they were going to do, and you know, they threatened me. You know they said that they’d be back the next day, and lo and behold, they were, and they came and posted themselves outside of our office door with these huge flagpoles, and we didn’t know what they were going to do, so that that sort of was the start of my time campaigning and just having to endure almost weekly, you know, just people coming after me, saying that I was sort of corrupting the election just by just sort of being here and doing my job. 

Someone tried to disqualify me three days before the election. I felt like I was in the newspaper like every other day, and you know, that on top of this restraining order that I had to sort of go through with against one of our citizens, who made the threat, and you know, my staff, in the meantime, I felt like, was caught up in the middle.

0:05:35 Michele Goodwin:

Around the country, election officials have taken a hit to preserve our democracy. They’ve received threats, like what we’re about to hear, courtesy of the Brennan Center, which is collecting data and building an archive, lest we forget the critical moments that we’re in right now.

0:05:56 Recording

People demand the truth, and you will pay for your lying remarks, you liberal lying RINO. We will fucking take you out. Fuck your family. Fuck your life, you lost your fucking mind.

0:06:12 [Various people]

They had assault rifles. A pipe bomb. You’re going to get what’s coming to you. They threatened my life. We couldn’t go anywhere without the police officers. When we had officers on the roof of our building…I’ve never had people so engaged and enraged about what we were doing just to ensure that people could vote. We had go bags ready for my family and my children.

0:06:33 Michele Goodwin:

So, who are the people fighting on the ground to preserve our democracy? Let’s tune into my interview with Kat Holland, Tonya Wichman, and Natalie Adona, whom you’ve heard from earlier.

0:06:47 Michele Goodwin:
It is really a privilege, an honor, for me to be with each of you because the work that you do is so critical to upholding our democracy, and we really do see and recognize women as being on the frontlines of American democracy, and I want to turn to you, first, Kathy. 

You served as the Director of the Alamance County Board of Elections for over 31 years, until you retired in 2021, and you served in eight presidential elections. You were the President of the North Carolina Associations of the Directors of Elections. Those are really big and prominent roles, and over 31 years, then there are Republican candidates, there are Democratic candidates, etcetera. Your work had to be nonpartisan and just really about serving the state.

0:07:42 Kat Holland:
That’s correct. It was, and that was one of what I feel like I championed the most was being a nonpartisan elections director. That way the voters could feel that they could always depend on me no matter what candidate was running in any office.

0:08:02 Michele Goodwin:
And it seems that, now, so much of that is under threat. We’re in the wake of a January 6th Commission that is investigating attempts to overturn the 2020 election, presidential election. There have been threats against election officials. I’m wondering how you understand the times that we’re in. You know you’ve given your service across eight different presidential elections. Is this anything that you have seen prior to 2020?

0:08:40 Kat Holland:

No. It is unprecedented. It’s a point in our society that it is much easier to believe what you’re being fed as far as misinformation than to look into the facts of what has happened, and as elections officials, going through the security that we go through, the best practices that we put in place, way ahead of the election, way ahead of when someone loses, you know, we have that in place. It’s not something that we do afterwards. So, it’s very uncomfortable for us.

0:09:18 Michele Goodwin:
I can only imagine that and this kind of vetting which now it seems that with the rhetoric, the flat-out falsehoods that have been put into media, you know, social media, mainstream media, suggesting that election officials are underhanded, have been underhand, really also takes away from how much security screening there is, how much training goes into doing this work, and how much election officials actually care about upholding democracy.

0:09:54 Kat Holland:
Yeah. I don’t know of any other jobs, well, personally that people get paid as little as elections officials get paid and work the hours that we work and still get the disrespect that we get by doing something for the public, for democracy, to make sure that we’re ensuring the basics of our democracy.

0:10:16 Michele Goodwin:
What Kat Holland was pointing out is that the deepening and widening threat to our elections, yes, from the potential for hacking from the outside, such as foreign governments, however, also from the inside. Shortly after the 2020 election, there were lawsuits and allegations of election fraud. The former president, Donald Trump, and his team of lawyers filed over five dozen lawsuits across the country, alleging wrongdoing in the election. 

Time after time, the former president lost those lawsuits, including with judges that he nominated to the federal bench. However, to understand the true scope of the challenge for our elections and the battles experienced by election officials, from those working to assist in the election process, at the local level, such as Ms. Ruby Freeman, to Secretaries of State. Take a listen to a phone call from President Trump made to the George Secretary of State, Brad Raffensperger, on January 2nd, only days before the deadly insurrection at the nation’s capital, urging the Secretary of State to find votes.

0:11:28 President Trump Recording

You should want to have an accurate election, and you’re a Republican.

0:11:33 Brad Raffensperger:

We believe that we do have an accurate election.

0:11:35 Donald Trump:
No. No you don’t. No. No you don’t. You don’t have it. You don’t have it. Not even close. You’re off by hundreds of thousands of votes. You know what they did, and you’re not reporting it. That’s the thing. You know that’s a criminal, that’s a criminal offense, and you know you can’t let that happen. That’s a big risk to you and to Ryan, your lawyer. 

That’s a big risk, but they are shredding ballots, in my opinion, based on what I’ve heard, and they are removing machinery and then moving it as fast as they can, both of which are criminal finds, and you can’t let it happen, and you are letting it happen. You know, I mean, I’m notifying you that you’re letting it happen. So, look, all I want to do is this. I just want to find 11,780 votes, which is one more than we have, because we won the state.

0:12:35 Michele Goodwin:

And this is unprecedented. Let’s be clear. Here, I turn back to election officials. I’m joined by Tonya Wichman, the Director of the Defiance County Board of Elections.

0:12:53 Tonya Wichman:

I will be honest. I ran my own business, actually two, with my husband for 17 years, and my dad had been involved in the board of elections forever, since I can remember as a kid, and the job had come open in my position, and he said, at the time, he goes I think you would be really good at this, I think you would love it, and my response was, no, I hate politics, like I don’t want to deal with it, I hate politics, and the way he responded to me was it’s not about politics, it’s about making sure politics are done right, and that’s something I could get onboard with. Like, I truly believed it. 

So, I had applied, got involved. My dad’s still a poll worker for me, and my mom, and anybody that’s in my family that will listen to me as I beg them to do it. He was right. I love what I do, and I think any election official, right now, can say it’s a love/hate relationship with what you do. Our voice needs to be louder than the people who are saying we do it wrong, and we all care about it, and you know, Kat was correct earlier. 

We get paid not near enough for the abuse that we take, and the job, over the last three years, has, I’m going to say tripled in the amount of things that we deal with, the amount of backlash that we have, and I would love for people, instead of just sending the emails and speaking so loudly about what we’re doing wrong, please ask us how we do it. That’s our goal. We want you to understand the process because I’ve been told, I think, probably 8 times in the last 2 days, you shouldn’t take it so personal. I do. I put my heart and soul into what we do to make sure everything is done to the utmost perfection that we can achieve, and so, we do take it personal, because it means something.

0:14:49 Michele Goodwin:

Well, it certainly has been made personal, hasn’t it, with the kinds of attacks that election officials have experienced?

So, what does it mean to work in the trenches today, protecting our elections? Here, back to the Brennan Center’s online reporting on the big lie.

0:15:18 Recording

The biggest problem we have, right now, are the ballots, millions of ballots going out. What’s going to happen on November 3, when somebody’s leading, and they say, well, we haven’t counted the ballots, we have millions of ballots to count. It’s a disaster.

0:15:34 [Various speakers]

That was picked up by his political allies and perpetuated against election administrators. This, to me, was an effort to undermine confidence in our entire electoral process. The national narrative was no early voting. Make them go to the polls. You know you can’t trust absentees. There were certainly unfamiliarity with the process, and people took advantage of that. People exploited that to try to make people question the validity of the system. And what they were doing was, again, trying to discredit the results if they didn’t turn out, and the bullseye was on us. 

There were people who showed up outside of election officials’ houses, armed, people that showed up outside of offices, threatening phone calls, harassment. And online discussions about types of ammunition and guns to use on me. It became a daily occurrence outside of our facility to have anywhere from 50 to 150 individuals outside. Some of them were armed. There was a fence sort of separating the building from the protestors, and they were armed. 

I was walking up the street to the park, and this big, big Caucasian guy came up to me out of his car, and he said I’ve been waiting for, Ms. Winfree, I want to know why you cheated during the election, I want to know why Donald Trump lost, it’s your fault. We were terribly concerned about every threat, everything that was said, because we just didn’t know. I was encountered with a partisan operative campaign manager, with his cell phone, where he videotaped me hurling insults and accusations. It had over 400 thousand views. Commenters were saying we should find out where she lives, we should hang her for treason, she should be shot.

0:17:30 Michele Goodwin:

What you’re hearing is that pushing the big lie regarding the 2020 election has also meant violence and assault against election officials and their staff members. I asked Kat Holland, who has served as an election official for more than a quarter of a century, to help me understand exactly what’s going on.

0:17:51 Kat Holland:

It’s just hard to understand. I, again, personally have had experiences. We had some civil unrest in our county in 2020, and there were police officers in our parking lot. There were helicopters over top of us, flying. They were handing out riot gear, and this was during early voting and then, again, on Election Day. It’s very intimidating. It’s intimidating to the voters. 

They see this. They’re scared to go to the polls. They’re scared to stand in line, and you know, there’s so much disinformation going out about what is happening, you know, we don’t want you to vote, so, we’re going to prohibit you from getting to the poll. So, it’s just disheartening to think that you’re trying to circumvent one of the basic rights of our society by doing these things, and I’m sure these ladies will agree that it makes everything just multiple times more difficult.

0:18:58 Michele Goodwin:
I wonder if any of you have the concerns and the fears that some others have articulated, including those who have gone to testify before the January 6th Commission, have you come to think of this work that you do as being something that’s dangerous or something where you have to be concerned about yourself and your families?

0:19:26 Kat Holland:
I think so. In North Carolina, I participated in some podcast, recently, and have some information from our executive director that since 2019, we have had, out of 100 counties, we’ve had 47 elections directors to retire.

0:19:43 Michele Goodwin:

Do you think, Kat, that that’s in part because of the kind of harassment that they’ve experienced and the kind…as you mentioned, there’s not much pay, sometimes virtually no pay, that election officials receive. So, this really has been a matter of upholding democracy and love for the rule of law, essentially, but you know with the threats, clearly that pushes people out of doing this work.

0:20:10 Kat Holland:
I think there are multiple factors to the retirements. You know we are having, in elections now, we’re having so many Freedom of Information Act requests. They’re debilitating, literally debilitating because our staff has not increased to deal with the Information Acts that are being requested of us. It’s like they’re trying, again, to circumvent our process by limiting the time, the quality of time, and the quantity of time, that we have to work on elections.

0:20:46 Michele Goodwin:

Tonya and Natalie, are you seeing the same thing? Tonya, are you seeing these ramped-up requests for under Freedom of Information Act, which allows individuals to petition to get information that is associated with government-run, government-funded organizations? Are you seeing that, too, in Ohio?

0:21:10 Tonya Wichman:

It is nonstop. My office, personally, only has two full-time employees. We have part-time staff. I have asked my deputy director to just let me read the emails because while in the same process they’re asking for the requests, they’re also very abusive to the… So, it’s very disappointing, and I don’t need the whole office to be sad, but I think it’s a lot of copy and paste. 

It’s a lot of scripted requests that are being duplicated over and over, which overwhelms an office, especially of our size. We have nothing to hide. I mean we really, I think any job that I’ve ever been in, we want to be transparent. We want people to believe in us. We’re part of your community. We’re your friends, we’re your neighbors, the same as your poll workers. We’re trying to constantly remind everyone here these are people you live next door to. Anything we would do would look bad for our whole community where our families live. We do things right.

0:22:20 Michele Goodwin:
So, you know, one of the things that you both have mentioned, Kat and Tonya, is that these Freedom of Information requests, so many of them, and then Tonya, what you’ve added is that it’s a lot of cut and paste, but connected with it, really abusive, threatening language. Natalie, you’re nodding. You, too? You’re seeing this in California?

0:22:20 Natalie Adona:

Absolutely, and you know, what’s funny is…

0:22:43 Michele Goodwin:

People think that these things don’t happen in California, Natalie, by the way.

0:22:47 Natalie Adona:
Everyone thinks, well, California is not a…

0:22:49 Michele Goodwin:

They’re like, okay, maybe that’s those other states, that’s Ohio, that’s Michigan.

0:22:51 Natalie Adona:

0:22:53 Michele Goodwin:
You’re saying that, no, in California, too?

0:22:56 Natalie Adona:
Oh, yeah, across the nation, and I mean it’s really sweeping. So, I was nodding at the copy/paste thing for a couple of reasons, one, because I’m getting a lot of the same letters from different people, not just in California, but you know, all over the place, demanding that we either give certain information or that we not destroy the materials from the 2020 election, but I was nodding at the copy and paste thing because, you know, for one, the election center, which Tonya had mentioned earlier, recently had its conference, and you know, a lot of us were sort of sitting around, comparing these requests and noticing that they all said the same thing, and even some people had gotten these letters where the requester had failed to replace the language insert county name here, and just sent over what they sent over.

0:23:55 Kat Holland:

0:23:58 Natalie Adona:
So, they are getting these templates from somewhere. There’s a lot of theories on the internet as to where the templates are coming from, but we’re all getting the same stuff, and you know, it sort of ramped up, last week, because that was the 22-month mark. So, if no one is familiar with the 22-month retention period for federal elections, we basically have to preserve all of those election materials for 22 months.

And you know, in many states, we’re required to destroy those materials. So, you know, I think as a matter of practicality, but you know, also, I think as a matter of policy, that’s the Federal Government and the state government’s way of saying, okay, elections have to be final. At some point, it is over. There are winners and losers, and then you move on to the next election, but yeah, we got a lot of letters demanding that we preserve all those materials past the 22-month mark.

0:25:00 Michele Goodwin:
Sure. Well, Natalie, I want to unpack just a little bit more because the LA Times covered some of the threats that you, personally, and I guess professionally, because of your professional work, that you’ve received that were personal, and after you called the 2020 election as legitimate, you came under attack. Can you tell us a little bit about what that was? I mean I guess including there were mailers that were sent out that slandered you, calling you a carpetbagger. What was that all about, and what was it like to experience that when simply you had just run for an office, you won that office, and then you did the job that you were supposed to do?

0:25:47 Natalie Adona:
Well, I mean, for me, it was sort of a personal process of sort of coming to terms with whether or not I actually wanted to run for office because of all of this stuff that sort of led up to the January 6th capitol riot. Having recently experienced the 2020 election and you know sort of seeing the sort of perfect storm of things that were threatening our democracy, and I had come to sort of really love our voters here in Nevada County. I’ve only been here for like 3 and 1/2 years, and so, I did not want to put the elections here at risk by sort of abandoning my post.

0:26:41 Michele Goodwin:
So, Tonya, you’ve also spoken out in the press about this kind of harassment. How has your job changed over the past several years, and what are you anticipating when it comes to the 2022 elections?

0:26:57 Tonya Wichman:
I think we try to plan for every worst-case scenario. That’s kind of our job as an election official. That job, like I said earlier, has drastically changed in the last 2 to 3 years. We’re not just administering elections. We’re dealing with cybersecurity issue and physical security, the aging out of our poll workers who, you know, once COVID hit, have decided maybe this is my time to retire. We don’t have new people stepping up because some of them are legitimately just scared to work at the polls because of the atmosphere and the climate that we have going on in elections. 

You know we’re looking at, in Ohio, we can’t have anyone, like an armed police officer, at our locations. It intimidates the voters, which we understand, and we have no problem with that, but now I have to train my poll workers on de-escalation training, when we have someone, you know, arguing with them at the polls. We have people in place, on call. We have our sheriff’s department more often going by the locations, our local police departments, things we didn’t have to think of before. If you don’t learn from each election, it’s never going to get better. 

I’ve seen so many people that in the five counties surrounding me, I have the most seniority left. None of the people that were working here are working here anymore since, and it wasn’t a retirement situation. They were taking less pay even than we’re making just to not have the stress, not take home the attitude that you have when you get home to your family. Do you walk in and say…they really don’t ask me how was my day anymore.

0:28:57 Donald Trump Recording

This is going to be a fraud like you’ve never seen. The only way we’re going to lose this election is if the election is rigged. It’s going to be fraudulent. It’s going to be fraud all over the place. Who’s getting the ballots? Who’s sending the ballots? This is stealing millions of votes. This is a rigged election.

0:29:20 Michele Goodwin:

You’ve just heard the former president, Donald Trump, claiming election fraud across a series of interviews and speeches, at rallies. He claimed election fraud because he lost the 2020 election. This has been called the big lie. Researchers at the Brennan Center for Justice have collected these clips as part of their video report called Election Officials are Under Attack. 

We will share the link at Ms. magazine. Now, let’s turn back to my interview with Kat Holland, Tonya Wichman, and Natalie Adona. Kat, you’ve been quoted in the Alamance News as saying that election security has become so much more series than during your tenure and that you never would’ve thought, 20 years ago, that homeland security would one day be at your office. Tell us about that.

0:30:18 Kat Holland:
Well, we considered the visit from homeland security to be a benefit to us. They were able to come into our office and identify security risks in our office. We had a trashcan outside of our office, and you know, you think, a trash can, well, they said, you know, somebody can put a bomb in that and blow your building up. So, I mean, I was fortunate enough, you know, these ladies have said that they are members of the election center, and I received my CER certification in 2008. 

So, I’ve been with the election center for a long time, and I’ve learned and brought a lot of things back to Alamance County. So, we were ahead of the game, but there are so many counties that don’t have the resources to send people to the election center or to provide the security for the offices, and people are starting for the back end, now, when they should already have been on the front end of the election security, and I’m on the Committee for Safe and Secure Elections, and one of our goals is to facilitate training and learning experiences between elections officials and law enforcement officers to bridge that gap so that everybody knows what page everybody else is on, but you can’t start that, I mean, now. 

It has to be something that you put in place for years, and you know, like Tonya was talking about telling elections officials about de-escalation, and I think these ladies will agree, when you’re in front of your coworker training classes, and you’re telling them, you know, one of the first things you do when you go into your polling place to set up, make sure you document your emergency plan, what you do in case of an active shooter, you know, where are you going to put your ballots, what are you going to get, and then talk to them about this de-escalation, you know, eyes grow larger, and as they’re leaving out, they’re handing books across the table to you, saying, I just really don’t want to do this. So, that’s a factor people don’t think about.

0:32:20 Michele Goodwin:
Yeah. You know that it’s really driving people away from wanting to be a part of this. So, what do you think, and I’ll open this up to everybody, what are the lessons learned in the wake of the 2020 elections?

0:32:33 Kat Holland:
Preparation, I will definitely say. You know I think we knew at the end of the 2020 election that not only was 2024 coming, 2022 was coming, and we had to see what went wrong as far as securities and those sorts of things and start planning this whole time, and in the past, you maybe had a week or two downtime. There was no downtime. There has been no downtime because we have to educate our public.

0:33:02 Natalie Adona:
Yeah. I think, for me, a lot of the things that I talk about with my colleagues, they’re trying to get ahead of some of the mis and disinformation that is likely to surface and will probably surface again. You know I know that the counties that used Dominion Voting Systems, for example, are working sort of jointly on communications for how those systems work. We had a sort of practice run for the midterms because California had a statewide gubernatorial recall. 

So, you know, a lot of things that we did not expect people to raise as issues and concerns were raised during that election. So, you know, we’re doing things like sort of creating communications strategies with other counties. Certainly, if we share media markets, we try to collaborate in those ways, and you know, really try to get ahead of some of this mis and disinformation with facts about elections. So, at the very least, maybe it’ll make some people think twice before sort of going to the dark side.

0:34:32 Michele Goodwin:
Now, back to the conclusion of our interview. Here’s Tonya Wichman, the Director of the Defiance County Board of Elections in Ohio.

0:34:43 Tonya Wichman:
I think we’re all speaking to the truth. Anywhere, any state, it doesn’t matter what party, it doesn’t matter what jurisdiction, it matters that we’re all saying the same thing about elections, that we care about it, that we run it well. We want to answer questions, and I think we have to keep speaking louder than the mis and disinformation that’s going out. I know it’s easier for people to listen to the things that sound like they can jump onboard.

And we’re kind of boring when we say, okay, this is how it really works, but I think sticking together and making people aware, I don’t know how many times I’ve had people say to me, well, I know it’s not happening here. I said, no, it’s not happening across the country. There’s people just like me in every other state doing the same thing I’m doing, and you know me. I know them. We’re all fighting the good fight to make sure you have the best election, no matter where it’s held, but we just need them to really…

0:35:47 Michele Goodwin:
That’s really the kind of strangeness of this time, which is that prior to now, one could rest assured that there was this sense that people didn’t think that you were cheating, that people didn’t think that you were failing in your job, that people didn’t have these kinds of suspicions, but now, those suspicions are real, and they’ve been weaponized.

0:36:14 Kat Holland:
That is true, and I have a saying, you know, the saying don’t drink the Kool-Aid. Well, I’ve expanded on that and I’ve said don’t drink the Kool-Aid unless you see who put the sugar in the pitcher. I mean, you know, know who’s telling you that information. You know you can drink it, but know who’s telling you that information.

0:36:31 Michele Goodwin:
You know it’s interesting that you should say Kool-Aid because you can’t help but think about these times as almost being cultish, and you mentioned Kool-Aid, and there was that very famous Jonestown massacre, right, where people just drank the Kool-Aid and even gave it to their children and died because it’s hard to understand just why all that cut and pasting is going on, just why those threats, the physical assaults that Natalie’s staff have experienced, the kind of security that you’ve had to contend with, now, with homeland security having to show up, and to protect you and your staff. 

These really are unprecedented times, but even in that, I wonder what you all see as a silver lining. Is there something to hold on for, to hope, as people are now resigning, as there are people saying, no, I don’t want to do this? Why exactly should they be committed? Why should they run for the same offices that you have held? Why should they want to do what you do? What’s the message of hope? And I’ll start with you, Tonya. 

0:37:32 Tonya Wichman:
I will say that a silver lining…I think I needed to be reminded, you know, you’re always a kid at heart, so I always go to my mom and dad, when you get to your breaking point, and I love that the thing that my mom said to me, most recently, was if it wasn’t for good people like you running elections and running it honest, what would we have? And it’s true. I mean it’s a service that we do to our community, and like I said earlier, I have that love/hate relationship with what I do. 

I obviously have become a real election geek and want to learn everything I can, learn about it, and make it the best I can make it, but I’m also just so disappointed in how many friends that I’ve lost in the business over the last couple of years. It’s a mass exodus, and you’re losing that experience, and you know, I’m kind of the one that they call because I’ve been here the longest in our area, and you need somebody that’s going to stay and make sure everybody is doing it right, so the lies don’t become the truths.

0:38:33 Michele Goodwin:
What about you, Natalie? What do you see as a silver lining, going forward?

0:38:39 Natalie Adona:
Well, two things. You know, the first thing has already been brought up. You know, for whatever reason that I think researchers don’t quite understand yet, election administration is a pipeline for women in leadership, and elections are run right in part because we know how to get it taken care of, right, and so, and I hope that our profession continues to elevate women to these sort of perhaps underappreciated but nonetheless very important roles. The second thing that I would say is that, you know, I think that there is sort of an underappreciation amongst people who aren’t in our profession that, hey, you know what, this system of checks and balances in our election system works. 

I mean we do have this, you know, sort of overall threat of who some people are calling election deniers maybe sort of taking over these offices, or you know, placing themselves in key positions where they can make decisions about elections, and I think, you know, there’s definitely something to that, and anytime, up to now, that there has been a problem, people have been getting caught. They’ve been getting caught. They’ve been getting called out, and it’s because our processes are set up to catch people who try to defraud the system, who try to stress test the system. They get caught every time, and they’ll continue to get caught as long as there are experienced professionals in these seats.

0:40:24 Michele Goodwin:

Kat, as we close out, what do you see as a silver lining, and again, just deep thanks and gratitude for the investment that you’ve made to protecting our democracy, spending more than 30 years, more than 31 years, doing this important work.

0:40:41 Kat Holland:

Well, I see silver linings in, just like other things in our society, the people that are causing the ruckus, even though they are strong-voiced and loud, they’re the minority, and I will tell a story that I love to tell. I did my job and still continue to serve on the Committee for Safe and Secure Elections because I love elections, and that’s just another way, another arm for me to champion this profession, but I tell this story often of a lady that I saw at an early voting line. 

She was elderly, and you could tell she was struggling to stay in line, and so, I went up to her and I said, you know, let me move you to the front of the line. It was, no, ma’am, I won’t let you do that. I said, well, if you’re going to stand here, I’m going to stand here and go with you. So, we get up to the table, and the lady states her name and address, which is what you do in North Carolina, and the woman found her on the books, and she said, ma’am, can we update your address because it looks like the way we have it, if you were here today, it would be your 100th birthday.

And my lady laughed, and the lady I was in line with said, yes, ma’am, it is my 100th birthday, and I wanted to come vote today because I have seen, she was a lady of color, she said I have seen all levels of democracy, I have seen all levels of voting, and she said this is what I wanted to do on my birthday. Those are the silver linings.

0:42:13 Michele Goodwin: 

Guests and listeners, that’s it for today’s episode of On the Issues with Michele Goodwin at Ms. Magazine. I want to thank each of you for tuning in for the full story and engaging with us. We hope you’ll join us again for our next episode, where you know we’ll be reporting, rebelling, and telling it just like it is. For more information about what we discussed today, head to MsMagazine.com and be sure to subscribe, and if you believe, as we do, that women’s voices matter, that equality for all persons cannot be delayed, and that rebuilding America and being unbought and unbossed and reclaiming our time are important, then be sure to rate, review, and subscribe to On the Issues with Michele Goodwin at Ms. Magazine in Apple Podcasts, Spotify, iHeartRadio, Google Podcast, Stitcher, wherever it is that you receive your podcast. 

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This has been your host, Michele Goodwin, reporting, rebelling, and telling it just like it is. On the Issues with Michele Goodwin is a Ms. Magazine joint production. Michele Goodwin and Kathy Spillar are our executive producers. Our producers for this episode are Roxy Szal, Oliver Haug, and also Allison Whelan. Our social media content producer is Sophia Panigrahi. The creative vision behind our work includes art and design by Brandi Phipps, editing by Will Alvarez and Natalie Holland, and music by Chris J. Lee.