A tide of resignations and retirements by election officials in battleground states, who have increasingly faced threats, harassment and interference, could further strain the election system in 2024, a national voting rights group warned in a report released on Thursday.
The group, the Voting Rights Lab, said that the departures of election officials in Arizona, Pennsylvania and other swing states had the potential to undermine the independence of those positions.
The 28-page report reveals the scope of challenges to the election system and underscores the hostile climate facing election officials across the nation. Resignations have swept through election offices in Texas and Virginia, while Republicans in Wisconsin have voted to remove the state’s nonpartisan head of elections, sowing further distrust about voting integrity.
In Pennsylvania, more than 50 top election officials at the county level have departed since the 2020 election, according to the report, which said that the loss of their expertise was particularly concerning.
In Arizona, the top election officials in 13 of 15 counties left their posts during the same period, the report said. Some of the defections have taken place in counties where former President Donald J. Trump’s allies have sought to require the hand-counting of ballots and have spread misinformation about electronic voting equipment.
“They are leaving primarily due to citing harassment and security concerns that are stemming from disproven conspiracy theories in the state,” said Liz Avore, a senior adviser for the Voting Rights Lab.
The Justice Department has charged at least 14 people with trying to intimidate election officials since it created a task force in 2021 to focus on such threats, according to the agency. It has secured nine convictions, including two on Aug. 31 in Georgia and Arizona, both battleground states.
“A functioning democracy requires that the public servants who administer our elections are able to do their jobs without fearing for their lives,” Attorney General Merrick B. Garland said in a statement at the time.
Along with the departures, the Voting Rights Lab report examined a series of issues that it said could create obstacles for the 2024 election, including the approval of new rules in Georgia and North Carolina since 2020 that are likely to increase the number of voter eligibility challenges and stiffen identification requirements.
In another area of concern for the group, it drew attention to the expiration of emergency rules for absentee voting in New Hampshire that were enacted during the pandemic.
At the same time, some other battleground states have expanded voting access. Michigan will offer at least nine days of early voting in 2024, accept more forms of identification and allow voters to opt in to a permanent mail voting list, while Nevada made permanent the distribution of mail ballots to all voters, the report said.