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Report: Election official turnover trend stretches two decades

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Eric Tegethoff

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(Washington News Service) A new report dives into election official turnover during more than two decades. It says rates have increased steadily nationwide since 2000, with the highest level in 2022.

Washington state has seen lower rates of turnover than many states, increasing from 23 percent in 2004 to 33 percent in 2022, according to the Bipartisan Policy Center.

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Rachel Orey - senior associate director of the elections project with the center - said elections have increasingly complex jobs alongside the day-to-day logistics, likely driving turnover.

"Today, election officials must manage everything," said Orey, "from cybersecurity risks posed by foreign adversaries, to public communications of people who are doubting the outcome of elections, to information technology, legal disputes, political pressures, human resources. The list goes on."

While Washington has seen lower turnover rates than other states, the West is projected to have the highest turnover of any region in 2024 - with a rate of nearly 42 percent.

Orey said recent increases have occurred in larger jurisdictions, which have received the brunt of scrutiny in the wake of the 2020 election.

She said increasing workloads for election officials have coincided with widespread reports of threats and harassment that are making election administration untenable work.

"That's where state and federal legislators can really step in," said Orey, "to provide adequate resources, competitive compensation levels and safety protections for election officials."

However, turnover doesn't necessarily mean the people taking over are inexperienced. Orey said new officials have an average of eight years of experience in top-level positions.

"So, when we see a turnover in a chief election official, it isn't always the case that someone new is coming in who doesn't know what they're doing," said Orey. "Rather, we see more often that it is folks with lots of experience in elections who are stepping into these chief roles."

Support for this reporting was provided by the Carnegie Corporation of New York.