Election officials carry out the most basic function of our democracy — making sure our eligible citizens can vote and that their votes count. Their work happens around the clock and far beyond what voters see on Election Day. Last year, they faced the extraordinary challenge of conducting elections amidst a pandemic, a polarized electorate, and even threats to their personal safety. At Verified Voting, we are privileged to work closely with election officials, and we know how important they are to our democratic process and the work that they do. This is our series of profiles that helps shine a light on their heroic work.
Kammi Foote got her voter registration card as soon as she turned 18, and was volunteering as a poll worker just a few years later. By 2010 she was elected Clerk-Recorder & Registrar of Voters in Inyo County, California at the age of 30, a role she continues in today. Here she tells us about her work administering and securing elections.
UPDATE: As of April 2021, Kammi has moved on to a new position at the U.S. Elections Assistance Commission (EAC). We wish her well on her next endeavor!
How did you get involved with election administration and how does the responsibility of being an administrator of democracy shape your approach to your work?
I was raised in a family that gave me a strong work ethic and a sense of responsibility to my community. I’ve held many roles in elections — poll worker, inspector in charge of a precinct, and technician with oversight over the electronic voting machines on election day — before being elected to my current position.
I feel honored that my community would entrust me with this sacred right, so I work hard to cultivate a service minded environment in the Inyo County elections office. The pressure of unrelenting deadlines, the 60+ hour work weeks and the exacting nature of the work, require a heart for service. I find this in most of my colleagues around the country. We don’t do the job because it is easy. We do it because it is an incredible honor to bear this great responsibility in service to our country.
What don’t Americans know about the election process that you wish they did?
I wish that they knew how much thought and care went into enfranchising every voter and safeguarding every vote. This election cycle brought to the forefront concerns that we have been raising for decades. Although scrutiny of our voting systems has been uncomfortable, it provides an opportunity to show the public what we do to protect their votes and hopefully will result in much needed reforms for all future elections.
This November, your county conducted its second risk-limiting audit. Tell us about this process.
Everything we do in Inyo County is open to public observation and we believe that transparency in the process is one of the ways to help ensure accountability. We primarily use hand marked paper ballots (combined with ballot marking devices for those who need to use them), which are the recommended election integrity standard, and conduct a ballot comparison audit, which compares human interpretation of the paper ballot to the machine interpretation. This year, we were able to pilot a new homomorphic encryption of cast vote records, which allowed maximum transparency in the auditing process while maintaining voter privacy.
What else does your office do to ensure secure elections?
We purchased a modernized voting system as soon as we could. We were an early joiner of the Election Infrastructure Information and Sharing & Analysis Center (EI-ISAC), and we implemented many cybersecurity tools offered by the Department of Homeland Security. We always conduct a pre-logic and accuracy test before every election – which means that we run a mini test election to ensure the vote totals are reporting accurately. We check every single signature and every single address on every mail ballot. Our scanners stamp onto each ballot the date, time, tabulator number, batch and specific ballot in the batch to ensure that no ballots can be counted more than once. We maintain a strong chain of custody and have at least two people stationed with voted ballots at all times. If we do suspect fraud, we make referrals to the appropriate law enforcement agencies.
What are the biggest challenges you’ve encountered in administering elections?
Insufficient budgets and short staffing continue to be our biggest challenge. Elections have been chronically underfunded for decades. Having the CARES Act funding showed us what well-resourced elections can accomplish, even under the strain of a global pandemic in a highly contested election cycle. There is no doubt in my mind that without the infusion of the CARES Act funds, we would have seen many more errors, mistakes and problems in the 2020 election cycle.
We’ve seen a lot of press about election administrators facing threats to their personal safety. How does this subversive rhetoric affect your job?
It goes without saying that election officials are people too; people who are worried about the health of their family and friends or having staff that has been sick or quarantined. We are managing distance learning with our children, some may be battling their own health challenges and we are exhausted from working long hours under intense stress for over a year with essentially no relief or days off to recover. The human element of juggling schedules, quarantines and morale is something that we are constantly re-evaluating and adjusting for.
What question/s do you wish the press would ask when reporting about election administration and/or election security?
“How can we help spread accurate information about elections and voting?”
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.