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Election officials across the U.S. are gearing up for primary season

AYESHA RASCOE, HOST:

And now we take a look at the job of running elections, which seems to be getting harder every year. You have to make sure people can vote safely, securely and, importantly, quickly. And by the way, foreign countries might try to hack your systems. Or candidates might spread lies about how you do your job, meaning you have to do everything perfectly while also worrying about threats against your staff or your family. It's a lot. And another contentious presidential election is just around the corner. Let's bring in NPR voting correspondent Miles Parks to discuss. Hey, Miles.

MILES PARKS, BYLINE: Hey, Ayesha.

RASCOE: So we're staring down another big election. I don't know how we got here so fast. Republicans in Iowa will caucus tomorrow, and New Hampshire is soon after. How are election officials across the U.S. feeling?

PARKS: I mean, it's sort of like 2020 never really ended. I had a long conversation about this with Lori Edwards. She's the election supervisor for Polk County, Fla., which is in the center of the state and went for Donald Trump the last two presidential elections.

LORI EDWARDS: From my perspective, I think that it will be a repeat of the 2020 election in more ways than one. I mean, a lot of folks at this stage of the game are thinking it's going to be Biden and Trump again. Well, I think that the challenges that election officials will face will be very similar.

PARKS: That's because tens of millions of Americans still believe Donald Trump's lie that the 2020 election was stolen, and that creates a whole host of other problems. That said, election officials I talked to are confident that no matter what misinformation is out there, they're going to be able to do their jobs this year.

Also, it's worth noting a number of states passed laws to make election administration better. I'm thinking of Michigan which, this year, will allow their clerks to process mail ballots quicker than they did in 2020, which, hopefully, should mean election results come more quickly out of that crucial swing state.

RASCOE: So you mentioned that this lie that elections are fraudulent creates this sort of downstream effect of other problems for election officials. Can you talk about those?

PARKS: Sure. So essentially, when you have people who think the government is sort of putting one over on them, they're motivated to try to expose or fight back against that, right? We have groups that have popped up in the last few years across the country aimed at exposing election fraud, which are blanketing county administrators with time-consuming public records requests. I hear this all the time. Voting officials say they understand that their jobs are meant to be transparent, but they say the requests are meant to distract or burden them. Often, they're directly tied to guidance from conspiracy theorists - people like Mike Lindell, the founder of MyPillow.

And the vast majority of election offices in the U.S., it's worth noting, have less than five full-time staffers. So if they're spending time responding to requests like this, they're not spending that time preparing for voting. The other thing here is the threat environment. As we know, threats have become commonplace in these jobs over the last few years, and that's meant voting officials have had to get very close with their local sheriffs or the local police departments to prepare for 2024, and that is a - still a major concern, especially in the swing states.

RASCOE: Right? I mean, because a lot of people have left these jobs in recent years because of the threats and the potential for - you know, the worry about violence, right?

PARKS: Yeah. I reported recently on a report out of the western United States that found that as many as half of voters are in a jurisdiction where the voting official will be new since 2020. But on the other side of that coin, some officials are also worried about how this could affect poll worker recruitment. Edwards, who we heard from earlier, said she needs to recruit roughly 2,000 people to work the election this year.

EDWARDS: Last thing I need is the news out there saying election officials are under siege over and over and over again. Like, I'm having a hard enough time finding people to do this. Let's not scare them.

PARKS: So that's going to be something we're going to be monitoring as the election gets closer - whether recruitment is more difficult but also who is being recruited to work these jobs. Many of those fraud-finding groups also want their people to work the polls. Some people say that's a good thing, could be educational for some of these folks, but it's going to be something we're watching as we think about their motivations.

RASCOE: That's NPR's Miles Parks. Thanks, Miles.

PARKS: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF DUSTY DECKS' "GETTING DOWN") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Ayesha Rascoe is a White House correspondent for NPR. She is currently covering her third presidential administration. Rascoe's White House coverage has included a number of high profile foreign trips, including President Trump's 2019 summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Hanoi, Vietnam, and President Obama's final NATO summit in Warsaw, Poland in 2016. As a part of the White House team, she's also a regular on the NPR Politics Podcast.
Miles Parks is a reporter on NPR's Washington Desk. He covers voting and elections, and also reports on breaking news.