The 2020 election cycle was like nothing we saw before. Primaries disrupted by a global pandemic. Attacks on the U.S. Postal Service. Mis and disinformation spread across social media.
Yet American voters prevailed and made their voices heard, turning out to cast ballots in record numbers. So much effort went into this successful election cycle, but the unsung heroes of the 2020 elections are the behind-the-scenes election administrators, volunteers, election monitors, postal workers, and secretaries of state who made democracy work.
So, who are these nameless public servants and volunteers who power our elections every year and who, in 2020, ensured that more voters than ever before could make their voices heard?
Every election requires thousands of people to make sure voting runs smoothly. Poll workers are everyday members of the community who step up to work during voting, from the time the polls open first thing in the morning, until the last voters have cast their ballots on Election Day. In 2020, administrators predicted a shortage of poll workers due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Because poll workers tend to be seniors, a population at higher risk for contracting the coronavirus, traditional poll workers were less likely to sign up for in-person election support in 2020. However, League of Women Voters members in hundreds of communities around the country serve as poll workers every election, so we partnered with Power the Polls to recruit a new generation of poll workers in 2020. As a result, most polling places around the country were well staffed, lines were controlled, and in some communities, volunteers were turned away because there were so many Americans stepping up to serve in our elections.
Our elections have a long history of poll monitors and election observers. These individuals are sometimes appointed by political parties or candidates, or serve as nonpartisan, impartial watchers, who are on site to observe voting operations and report any irregularities to election administrators, candidates, or party officials. Observing our election process, including monitoring the polls, is critical to ensuring our elections are transparent and building confidence in our election system. These individuals also observe the ballot counting process, and in 2020, this was a greater undertaking than usual due to the increase of absentee and vote-by-mail in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite mis and disinformation and heightened rhetoric, election observers continued to be a vital part of protecting the integrity of our elections.
In March, when the pandemic first impacted our country, the League was already engaged with election administrators at the state and local level, as the primary season was well underway. We shared our recommendations for how to take appropriate safety measures and inform the public of changes. Election administrators are not only responsible for the in-person voting process, but also planning, training election workers, managing, storing, and maintaining ballots and voting equipment, budgeting for the correct number of ballots, and overseeing the counting and certification process. Each one of these election activities was impacted by the pandemic and required updated procedures. That also meant educating the voting public about the changes being implemented to protect public safety and ensure access to the ballot box. This is where the partnership between election administrators and the League was so valuable to inform voters about election changes. Our nonpartisan election website VOTE411.org kept state-specific election information updated around the clock and, through our extensive network, reached more than 6 million users throughout the 2020 election.
SECRETARIES OF STATE
The chief election official in each state (or district) is responsible for facilitating state elections and managing election results. In some cases, these men and women — working with other state leaders — took measures to expand voter access by proactively mailing absentee ballots to registered voters, ordering additional ballot droboxes in their states, and expanding the early voting period. While expanding the vote-by-mail options to cut down on in-person contact during the pandemic, the secretaries of state were also responsible for maintaining in-person voting options, in many cases without sufficient funding. At the end of the day, they are the ones safeguarding our free and fair elections.
As the United States Postal Service continued to face funding challenges during the pandemic, a busy election season required these front-line workers to deliver millions more ballots through the mail than ever before. Under the added pressure of delivering ballots to voters and returning ballots to election officials in time, in the final week before the election, the agency ordered late deliveries and extra trips to keep up with the mail-in ballot load. These dedicated postal service workers ensured millions of Americans could safely cast their ballots in the middle of a global pandemic.
Reflecting on this unique election cycle that saw more Americans vote than ever before, I am in awe of these patriotic individuals who helped ensure we could all safely participate in our democracy this year. Their names won’t be in the history books, but every one of these unsung heroes deserves our thanks for administering the election process in a free, fair and accessible manner under the most trying conditions.