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Elections Q&As for Lawmakers: How Are States Addressing Election Workforce Issues?

U.S. election workforce issues are emerging as a challenge amidst increasing responsibilities and politically driven attacks, and states are navigating these turbulent times for election officials with new strategies.

By Lesley Kennedy  |  February 28, 2024

About this series: NCSL hosted legislators and legislative staff in December 2023 to answer common questions surrounding election processes and options, with an eye toward bill drafting in 2024 and beyond. Experts delved into topics ranging from absentee and mail voting and the role of poll watchers to technology and maintaining clean voter rolls. State Legislatures News broke down the questions and answers to help inform lawmakers on the intricacies of elections. Check Elections Q&As for Lawmakers often for more information.

The Expert: Tammy Patrick, CEO, Election Center, the National Association of Election Officials

Across the United States, election workforce issues are emerging as a challenge amidst increasing responsibilities and politically driven attacks. However, states and professional associations are navigating these turbulent times for election officials with new strategies to ensure preparedness.

"In rural areas, local election officials are often running elections and serving as the city clerk, the court clerk, issuing dog licenses, and more," Patrick says, noting the multifaceted roles often played by those in smaller jurisdictions.

Add in the fact that more than a third of our nation’s election offices do not have a full-time elections employee and the growing burden on election officials due to an influx of FOIA requests and politically based attacks, and it’s easy to see why there are concerns surrounding the sustainability of current practices.

"Our election officials are doing a lot of jobs, and it is becoming incredibly burdensome as the responsibilities of election professionals expand," Patrick says, noting high turnover rates across the country, with one example being North Carolina, where "almost half of their county elections directors have turned over since the 2020 election."

Top Two Takeaways

  • States are responding to high turnover rates and workforce shortages by implementing mentorship programs, weekly discussions, and other support systems to ensure a uniform understanding of election processes and provide necessary resources.
  • The importance of professional development through training and certification programs is a vital component of election officials' ability to face challenges. 

Patrick says strategies are being implemented across the country to address the issue of workforce development.

"In North Carolina, they've implemented weekly and monthly convenings — they're calling them hubs and huddles,” she says. “Other strategies such as mentorships and frequent training ensure that everyone has uniformity of understanding across the state."

She praises Michigan's Municipal Clerks Association for its mentorship program, an initiative to foster a supportive environment for new and existing election officials. Patrick also points out the critical role of state-based associations in providing resources, uniformity of understanding, and the importance of training and certification.

"The question is, are errors going to be weaponized in a way that tries to undermine the legitimacy or confidence in the entire process?" Patrick says, emphasizing the need for robust training to prepare officials for the challenges they may face.

Still, despite potential issues that may arise, Patrick is optimistic, citing the dedication of election officials and the need to attract more properly motivated professionals to the field.

"Working in elections is contagious — you get infected with it,” she says. “I think it's the best job anyone can ever have, but we don’t grow up thinking, ‘I want to be an election official.’ At this moment, we want to make sure that the states have an opportunity to attract young talent who may not know it is even a career and talent from other professions to bring their skillsets with them.”

Lesley Kennedy is NCSL’s director of publishing and digital content.

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