We are privileged to work closely with election officials on a daily basis. Their work to safely and securely administer our elections goes far beyond what voters see on Election Day – and, as we saw in 2020, can at times come at great personal risk. To shine a light on the important role they play in our democratic process, we launched a Q&A series highlighting their work. Ruth Elliott is the County Clerk in Harper County, Kansas. Here she tells us more about her work:
Tell us about how you got involved with election administration.
I worked in medical records and human resources for the State of Kansas for 20 years. After moving to Harper County, KS, I continued in personnel/payroll and assisted at the hunting/fishing store that we owned for a while, but ultimately interviewed at the County Clerk’s Office of the Courthouse. I began that position in March 2011, just in time for the April City/School Election process – I was obviously a helper because I knew absolutely nothing about elections at the time.
As administrators of our democracy, election officials’ work is so important to carry out our democratic process. How does that responsibility shape your approach to your work?
My approach to any work responsibility is to be disciplined, stay focused on tasks, work hard, and be approachable. I have had to maintain confidentiality when necessary, but have pivoted to the transparency required for the election process and actually much of what’s done in the Clerk’s Office. Although I came on the heels of a wonderful Clerk who had been in this position for at least 25 years, I feel that I have made additional efforts to work closely with election workers and supervising judges, and to have lots of conversations, face-to-face and via technology, with voters. It helps all of us feel more confident in the processes we provide and I believe, from comments by residents, that we make things better for them as well.
These days, Americans are hearing a lot about the administration of our elections. What don’t Americans know about the election process, that you wish they did?
This process starts many months before the actual Election Day, and months before there is any possibility of voters having access to mail-in ballots or early voting. We manage different types of publications with different deadlines, process candidate filings, establish and check and recheck the ballots for numerous precincts, compile and recheck contents of election worker bags for the polling sites, just to name a few of our duties. The election process does not end on that evening, or even that week. The Canvass of Results provides information on the number of registered voters versus the number who actually voted, details about advance voters and early voters, and reasons for provisional votes. Besides the process for calculating results, counties in Kansas do an audit of results for at least two precincts and two races. There are then reports generated that are required by the Secretary of State’s Election Office.
What would you like voters to know about how your office implements transparency and accountability?
We make a point of putting information in the three county newspapers and utilizing the county website and Facebook to distribute information. Since we are pretty small, our office staff goes to each of the polling sites on Election Day at least twice a day (more if necessary) to see how things are going and to discuss any concerns with poll workers and the public. To clarify concerns that voters raise at the polls, I will often follow up by writing letters to them to personally address their issues.
If funding was limitless, what would you like to change or have implemented in your elections processes or infrastructure to make your elections more secure?
Truly, at this point in time, I have no concerns about the security of our election process. Scanners are locked away, and even locked themselves; supervising judges keep a close watch on actions at the polling sites; our technology used for calculations is not connected to the internet and is a stand-alone system, not used for anything else but elections. I’m not saying that things are perfect, but I believe we’ve had great success with our elections. [Kansas also conducts post-election audits, which you can read about here].
How can Americans support election officials in their work to implement democracy?
I like to encourage people to register, but they need to also actually vote! We would also like people to stop using social media to spread incorrect information. If they have questions, I ask them to contact our office for accurate information. It is so hard, as everyone everywhere takes written information at face value or reads the headlines and then the problems start. I know that people in our community trust us, and once they allow us to explain how systems work, they understand things so much better.
If you, like us, know how important election officials are for our democracy – consider thanking them for their service. Find your local election official at www.verifiedvoting.org/verifier and send them a note of appreciation for all of the work they do. Feel free to send suggestions for other election official heroes we can interview to firstname.lastname@example.org.