JoCo election officials reflect on the 2022 midterm amid national threats

After the 2020 election sparked national conversations around election security, Iowa’s election administrators worked to prove to Iowans the security of the state’s elections in 2022.


Grace Smith

Precinct election official James Amlong eats lunch on the steps of Longfellow Elementary School in Iowa City during Election Day on Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2022. Amlong has been working in Iowa City polls for elections for over 10 years. “Exercise your right,” Amlong said. “It’s the only place in the world you can peacefully vote at.”

Liam Halawith, Politics Reporter

Among a national rise in election denial and death threats toward election officials, Iowa election officials sought to prove to voters that the state’s elections are safe and secure.

The falsehoods surrounding election security in 2020 led to a rise in death threats toward poll workers nationally. The FBI investigated 1,000 cases of death threats or violence toward election officials, according to a U.S. Department of Justice press release.

Election goes smoothly for Johnson County poll workers

Election officials are seeing a nationwide poll worker shortage. According to Vet the Vote, a non-profit focused on advocating for veterans to become poll workers, 130,000 poll workers stopped working the elections over the last three midterm elections.

Iowa saw a high turnout for this midterm election, with 1,220,000 ballots cast, according to unofficial numbers from the Iowa Secretary of State’s office.

High turnout coupled with trouble finding Republican poll workers meant voters experienced longer lines than expected at Johnson County polling sites on Tuesday. Polling places are required to have a balance of Republican, Democrat, and no-party officials under Iowa code 49.13.

Johnson County precincts typically staff eight paid election workers, but this year they had to reduce the number of poll workers at each site to maintain party balance.

“We got help from the secretary of state and from the Republican Party, but we still did not get the number that we wanted to,” Johnson County Deputy Auditor of Elections Bogdana Velterean said.

To compete with other employers, Johnson County gave its poll workers a $2 raise this year, increasing their pay to $16.50,  as previously reported by the The Daily Iowan. Travis Weipert, the Johnson County auditor, expressed their fears to the DI after receiving threats and their concerns about making mistakes under Iowa’s new election laws.

Officials can receive criminal penalties for not following election laws — even if it is a mistake.

The Iowa Legislature passed an omnibus election security bill in 2021 that added criminal penalties for election officials that violate election administration laws and shortened the early voting and absentee ballot window.

Velterean said she attributed the increased number of voters at the polls on Election Day to the shortening of early voting and absentee voting windows, leaving voters less time to cast their ballot.

Velterean said early voters had less time to be contacted or correct issues if something was wrong with their ballot. For voters who vote by mail, the deadline for receiving absentee ballots is 8 p.m. on election night, meaning the window to send replacement ballots if needed is drastically shorter.

“If they needed a replacement ballot by mail ­— get it to them and then back to us — the timeframe was tighter.”

Becci Reedus, a Democrat from Iowa City who worked the polls this election cycle, said most voters just wanted their vote to count. Reedus said she helped voters if they made a mistake on a ballot or helped them check on the status of their absentee ballot because they wanted to make sure their vote counted.

“I think the takeaway for me would be that people want their vote to count,” Reedus said. “People were coming out and registering as new voters or changing their address. Or, they hadn’t voted for a few years, and they wanted to vote again.”

Suzanne Micheau, a precinct official and elections assistant at the Johnson County Auditors Office from Lone Tree, said she thought the elections were secure in Johnson County and Iowa.

“It’s so redundant and double-checked that we don’t see any problems or have any questions about the security of the votes at all,” Micheau said.

Nationally, election officials face death threats and violence

One in six election officials have experienced threats because of their job, and 77 percent say they feel these threats have increased in recent years, according to a poll by the Brennan Center for Justice, a nonpartisan policy researcher group.

Additionally, the Brennan Center for Justice found 20 percent of poll workers surveyed said they didn’t plan on returning to the polls this year amid the threats they receive.

In October, a 64-year-old Iowa man was arrested by the U.S. Department of Justice for threatening to murder a Maricopa County, Arizona election official after the 2020 election. Maricopa County was part of many pivotal recounts in the 2020 election, where former President Donald Trump lost 10,000 votes.

The man left a voicemail for the Arizona attorney general that was filled with vulgar language and threatened to hang him.

To combat the threats of violence against election workers, the FBI assembled an elections threats task force. According to an August report from the task force, they saw 1,000 cases since they were formed in July 2021 of intimidation, threats of physical violence, and harassment of election officials.

“To protect the electoral process for all voters, we must identify threats against those responsible for administering elections — whether federal, state, or local,” said Deputy Attorney General Lisa O. Monaco in a July 2021 press release. “A threat to any election official, worker, or volunteer is a threat to democracy.”

The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Iowa partnered with the FBI and U.S. Department of Justice to appoint a district election officer to oversee complaints of election threats, voter intimidation, and violation of voting rights on Election Day.

“Every citizen must be able to vote without interference or discrimination and to have that vote counted in a fair and free election,” U.S. Attorney Richard Westphal said in a press release on Nov. 1. “Similarly, election officials and staff must be able to serve without being subject to unlawful threats of violence.”

Iowa officials have not reported any threats of harassment or violence against election officials, and the Johnson County Auditor’s Office has not seen any harassment or violence at their precincts on or before election day, Velterean said.

Iowa Secretary of State reassures Iowans of a secure election

Among all registered voters, 22 percent of those surveyed think America’s elections are administered “very well,” according to a Pew Research poll conducted in October. Only 11 percent of Republican registered voters surveyed thought the U.S.’s elections are administered “very well.”

With national conversations around election security, Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate wanted to show Iowans their election system is safe and secure. His office issued a press release on Nov. 1, affirming they would expand the state’s post-election audits.

Pate announced that all of Iowa’s 99 counties will perform two hand-counted audits of two races per county. They had previously only hand-audited one race.

“This is being done to ensure Iowans of the integrity of the vote,” Pate said in the press release. “Our post-election audits consistently match the ballot tabulators perfectly. Adding another race to the process gives greater protection, transparency, and security to the process. We want Iowans to know their vote counts.”

Pate also oversaw administrative recounts in Warren and Des Moines counties after technical failures caused delays on election night.

Additionally, Pate set up a task force of election security officials to oversee the security of the election, according to a Nov. 3 press release from his office.

Only Linn, Warren, and Des Moines counties did not fully report unofficial results on election night.

“I can’t emphasize this enough: The integrity of the vote and the safety of voters are my top priorities,” Pate said in the press release. “Pre- and post-election audits, paper ballots, and voter ID are just a few of the many protections in place. Iowans, we’ve got your back, so go out there, make your voice heard, and be a voter.”

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