AUSTIN, Texas — Nearly 5.5 million people voted early in Texas and about 36,000 of those people cast ballots in Brazos County. The elections administrator there, Trudy Hancock, has been doing the job for nearly two decades.
“I’ve seen a lot of changes, and a lot of increase in stress,” said Hancock, who also serves as the president of the Texas Association of Elections Administrators.
One change is people quitting. According to a March poll by the Brennan Center for Justice, about a third of election workers know someone who has left the job because of safety concerns.
Hancock said she’s seen the same thing. Some of the people she worked with for years have left the profession. She said a lack of trust in elections and so much disinformation online has made her job harder.
“There’s just so much more pressure now,” Hancock said. “Just feeling like you’re under the microscope, and if you do one wrong thing, it’s interpreted that it was malicious. Nothing’s just a human error anymore.”
Michael Sozan, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, said many problems started after the 2020 election, when then-President Donald Trump (R) lost to Joe Biden (D) and refused to accept the results.
“Unfortunately, what we’ve seen since the 2020 election, and even a little bit beforehand, was the spreading of what’s now known as ‘the Big Lie,’” Sozan said. “That is a lie about election fraud being widespread. The reason it’s a lie is because the facts show that our elections are very safe and very secure. But sadly, what’s happened, especially in a lot of the battleground states like Texas and others, is that there were a lot of lawsuits challenging the valid presidential election a couple of years ago, and ‘the Big Lie’ and disinformation about elections has been spreading."
When seasoned election officials leave the profession, Sozan said there’s room for more possible mistakes.
“It’s really sad that we’re seeing this brain drain of very talented election officials,” Sozan said. “So many of them are just deciding that it’s not worth it to put themselves in jeopardy, or their families in jeopardy, and they’re leaving these jobs. And what’s not healthy about that for a vibrant democracy is we rely on the institutional knowledge, and the wisdom, and the experience of these election officials who’ve had to navigate tricky election laws for years, sometimes for decades. And when you lose those talented people, and these positions have to be filled with people who may not have as much experience, that can have ripple effects that, in and of itself, can sometimes help to produce some good-faith errors."
Senate Bill 1 has also made things more difficult for Hancock. The bill restricts how and when voters can cast ballots, and it added some penalties for election workers.
“It basically made election officials now much more worried about taking the wrong step, even if that step is done in good faith to help make sure people can vote,” Sozan said.
More polling from the Brennan Center shows that one in six election workers have been threatened before. During the March primary, Hancock’s team received some threatening phone calls, but not this election.
“I feel the pressure, but no direct threats,” she said.
Hidalgo County’s interim elections administrator, Hilda Salinas, said the same thing.
“We have not had any threats,” Salinas said.
The elections administrators in Lubbock County and Williamson County also said they haven’t received threatening messages.
“When we asked election officials who are contemplating leaving, why they’re thinking of leaving, the number one reason was lies that were being told about the work that they’ve done, and that’s really exhausting, too. You don’t have to be threatened to have people stop you in the supermarket and telling you that they think that you were responsible for rigging an election,” said Lawrence Norden, the senior director of elections and government at the Brennan Center for Justice.
“So it’s certainly good news that most people that are working in elections have not been threatened. On the other hand, that shouldn’t be an extraordinary thing."
Norden said voters need to be wary about information they see online, especially if it doesn’t come from an official source.
“There are mistakes in every election, and there are going to be people out there who are looking to exploit those mistakes, to make false and dangerous claims,” Norden said. “I think everybody should just make sure that they take a step back tomorrow, later this week. There are going to be, unfortunately, all kinds of allegations. We should be very cautious and careful, particularly when people are using extremely sensationalistic language around things that they claim to be saying.”
Salinas encouraged voters to call their elections administrator if they have questions about information they read online.
“We have excellent representatives that are able to take your calls and answer your questions,” Salinas said. “That way you can be sure that you are informed with the correct information.”