“‘Center of the maelstrom’: Election officials grapple with 2020’s long shadow”

Zach Montellaro for Politico:

The nation’s secretaries of state used to be little-known, wonky bureaucrats who operated in near-anonymity. But after the 2020 election, they are now on the frontlines of the battle over trust in American democracy.

Since the last time they gathered in person more than a year-and-a-half ago, the secretaries of state have seen their jobs — and U.S. elections — change completely. And they are still grappling with how to respond.Interviews with a dozen state chief election officers at the National Association of Secretaries of State summer conference here, along with panel discussions and conversations with other conference attendees, paint a picture of a radically different American election system post-2020, reshaped by a once-in-a-generation pandemic on one side and a near-unprecedented wave of misinformation on the other.

Now, those officials — who in many states also manage bureaucracies around things like business registration and licensing barbers and hairdressers — find their jobs dominated by elections. They have been besieged by conspiracies about what happened last year, and they’re increasingly being targeted personally by those same misinformation campaigns.

“I can’t help to think that it undergirds everything we’re doing here,” Oregon Secretary of State Shemia Fagan, a Democrat first elected to the office last year, said of the 2020 election and its aftermath. “It has just changed the game.”

The conference also made clear that the shadow of 2020 was still hanging over their offices for the foreseeable future.

There were persistent rumors that there were, as the group’s executive director put in the closing meeting, “crazy people” who snuck into the conference and were trying to secretly film the secretaries. One longtime attendee noted that security, while not overwhelming, was significantly more visible than in years past, and uniformed police officers were a regular presence at the conference. At least one secretary had private security at the conference, and another noted that they had contacted law enforcement while in Iowa to report a new violent threat they received back home.

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