Voting officials’ resignation, amid outlandish accusations, an ominous sign for democracy

Democracy isn’t at a precipice yet, but it’s moving ever closer. Buckingham County is one example of that ominous slide. 

April 13, 2023 12:09 am

Signs at a polling location in Buckingham County, Va., November 3, 2020. (Parker Michels-Boyce / For the Virginia Mercury)

Buckingham County’s elections director and her entire staff had had enough. 

Enough of the lies about voting fraud. Enough of the accusations of wrongdoing and treason by county residents. Enough of the demented denialism stemming from the 2020 presidential election, in which too many people believed the bogus conspiracy claims of Donald Trump. The serial prevaricator’s falsehoods  numbered in the tens of thousands while in office.  

Lindsey Taylor felt she just “couldn’t take it anymore” and recently quit the job she’d held since 2019, NBC News reported. Two part-time staffers also quit, following a deputy registrar who had departed in February. 

Mind you, all of this occurred in a conservative county where Trump won in 2020 with 56% of the vote.  (He lost by 10 percentage points in Virginia to Joe Biden). In 2022, Republican incumbent Rep. Bob Good – who also rejected the 2020 presidential results – won Buckingham County by nearly 30 percentage points.  

Some conspiracy. 

“Registrars all across the country report threats in letters, emails, voicemails and phone calls. Some find their personal addresses and information posted on-line,” John McGlennon, a longtime government professor at the College of William & Mary, told me. “Job security, attorney fees and the prospect of legal charges without any evidence of wrongdoing simply make the job of registrar (or employee of the registrar or election day worker) too hard.” 

The absurdities emanating from Buckingham County, in which a professional administrator felt hounded from her job by the Republican-majority electoral board and local Republicans, are more proof of the threats to democracy nationwide that have expanded significantly since the 2020 election. 

An election official wipes down a desk at the Agricultural Service Center in Buckingham, Va., November 3, 2020. (Parker Michels-Boyce / For the Virginia Mercury)

Will we obey the rule of law, or capitulate to the unhinged braying of the mob? Do we look for facts, or do we accept baseless claims that only support our side? 

It’s easy to identify events around the county where the will of the people has been overruled, customs and norms have been abolished for political gain, or a majority party has choked off legitimate debate.  

U.S. Senate Republicans denied then-President Barack Obama a chance to replace the late Antonin Scalia on the U.S. Supreme Court in early 2016, yet they rushed to confirm a new justice when Ruth Bader Ginsburg died six weeks before the 2020 election.  

Several GOP-led states last month exited the Electronic Registration Information Center, which experts considered a reliable way for states to share voter registration data. NPR cited a “sustained misinformation campaign from the far-right” that contributed to the pullout.  

Thus, politicians who have unduly worried about voter fraud have, in effect, discarded one resource to help prevent it. (Virginia remains a member of ERIC.) 

In 2020, Florida’s Republican-controlled Legislature basically rejected a citizens’ ballot initiative granting voting rights to possibly more than 900,000 former felons. Some 65% of Floridians had approved the 2018 ballot measure.  

The attacks on election officials are particularly troubling. They could usher in a tainted system where party hacks – not neutral administrators – oversee voting. That’s noteworthy here in Virginia, where elections occur every year. 

“Efforts by election deniers to intimidate election workers and interfere with free and fair elections are not only illegal, they are a serious threat to our democracy,” Michelle Kanter Cohen, policy director and senior counsel at the nonpartisan Fair Elections Center, said through a spokesperson. 

A 2022 poll by the Brennan Center noted one in six election officials have experienced threats because of their job, and 77% say that they feel these threats have increased in recent years. “More than one in four are concerned about being assaulted on the job,” the poll said. 

Dianna Moorman, director of elections in James City County, relayed a disturbing incident in her office during early voting in October. She said a man, who didn’t live in the county, spurred a dispute over First Amendment rights and what words or signage he could display at a voting precinct. 

The man later aired a YouTube video of the incident that, Moorman said, was edited misleadingly. She’s gotten up to 29 intimidating or threatening phone calls since January. “They have provided my home address and doxxed my entire family,” she told me Wednesday. 

Moorman has been an election official for 18 years in the county and the chief of her office since 2016. After the October incident and the YouTube posting, she’s had to increase security at her home and at the general registrar’s office.   

It’s not what Moorman expected the position would entail. 

“We are sworn to uphold the constitution of Virginia,” she noted. “Our job is to ensure fair, safe and transparent elections, all while being apolitical.”   

Let me be clear: One party, the GOP, is more guilty of hurling wild accusations with no support and of suggesting misdeeds not backed by proof.  

The goal: Muck up the legitimacy of elections, frighten voting officials who are trying to be fair and cast doubt on the other side’s victories.. Similar resignations – some explained, some not – have occurred in Montana, Arizona and Texas over the past year.  

McGlennon, the William & Mary professor, started at the Williamsburg university in 1974, the same year Richard Nixon resigned during the Watergate scandal. The professor said the political climate in the country has hardened over the past half century.   

We should all be worried. 

“The level of polarization is so high, and the tendency to not view your political adversaries as … legitimate citizens with a point of view, and instead as mortal enemies, is strong,” McGlennon said. 

Indeed. Democracy isn’t at a precipice yet, but it’s moving ever closer.  

Buckingham County is one example of that ominous slide. 

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Roger Chesley
Roger Chesley

Longtime columnist and editorial writer Roger Chesley worked at the (Newport News) Daily Press and The (Norfolk) Virginian-Pilot from 1997 through 2018. He previously worked at newspapers in Cherry Hill, N.J., and Detroit. Reach him at [email protected]