In Ohio, it takes two keys to unlock the doors to the buildings housing the state’s 88 county boards of elections.
Democrats have one key. Republicans have the other.
“So it’s like those submarine movies from the ’80s where it takes two keys to launch a torpedo,” Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose told an NCSL Base Camp session. “Nobody can go in the room where the ballots are printed or where the tabulation equipment is, nobody can really come into the board of elections, unless you have both parties present to maintain that strict bipartisan chain of custody.”
We as election officials of our states hold ourselves to the highest level of integrity and care incredibly deeply about the right to vote. —Maggie Toulouse Oliver, New Mexico secretary of state
LaRose, a Republican, and his New Mexico counterpart, Maggie Toulouse Oliver, a Democrat, agree that running elections is about keeping them free, fair, transparent—and trusted.
“Ultimately, what it leads to is that we run elections so well, even the loser knows they’ve lost,” says LaRose, a former two-term state senator and Green Beret. “So I’ll say a thank you to all Ohioans, Republicans and Democrats, at all levels of office, who accepted their wins or losses with grace and dignity.”
Toulouse Oliver, a former elections chief in New Mexico’s most populous county who just won reelection to a second term as secretary of state, says she was pleased the election ran so smoothly. It’s a testament, she says, to the hard work elections officials have done to educate the public about how elections work and to convince voters they can trust the process.
“It seems like folks were really digesting that information, and I think it has had a calming effect on the public, particularly those who were really concerned and worried about whether elections were being conducted fairly and accurately,” she says.
‘An Army of Truth-Tellers’
To fight rumors and deliberate disinformation, Toulouse Oliver created a “Rumor vs. Reality” webpage to address such questions as “Could someone change election results?” and “Can non-citizens vote?”
LaRose’s office proactively offers trainings to journalists in elections procedures, and has done the same in minority communities that are often targets of disinformation—which resulted in the successful prosecution of two men behind a racist robocall designed to suppress turnout. A rapid response team monitors social media to combat mis- and disinformation as soon as it’s detected, a process LaRose likened to a game of whack-a-mole. He has urged county boards to train more poll workers than they need, “creating an army of truth-tellers out there in the community.”
Both secretaries say they’ve seen record-breaking turnout, in part because of steps to make the process easier. New Mexico just implemented same-day voter registration, which 10,000 people used on Election Day, Toulouse Oliver says. LaRose’s “Raise a Glass for Democracy” and “Styling for Democracy” campaigns brought voter registration into bars, barbershops and beauty salons—the places where people gather and talk politics.
Secretaries of state might argue policy and politics over a beer, too, Toulouse Oliver says. But at the end of the day, “We agree on so much more than we disagree on,” she says. “The very big, most important thing is making sure elections are free and fair, and votes are counted accurately. And that we as election officials of our states hold ourselves to the highest level of integrity, and care incredibly deeply about the right to vote and about making sure that every eligible voter in our state can cast a ballot.”
How much do they care? LaRose says he’d give someone a ride to the polls even if he knew they were voting for his opponent.
“If you believe in democracy, that’s what you have to do,” he says. “If I told you in the abstract that the world’s most powerful nation made its most impactful decisions on a random Tuesday night in November, you would say, ‘How does that work?’ Well, the fact is, it does work, because Democrats and Republicans who are very dedicated to this process make it work.
“It’s our responsibility to keep making it work—and to protect this very precious and sometimes fragile institution called democracy.”