The polls had just opened for last year’s midterms in Pennsylvania when the phones began ringing at the election office in Luzerne County.
Polling places were running low on paper to print ballots. Volunteers were frustrated, and voters were getting agitated.
Emily Cook, the office’s interim deputy director who had been in her position for just two months, rushed to the department’s warehouse. She found stacks of paper, but it was the wrong kind — ordered long ago and too thick to meet the requirements for the county’s voting equipment.
Conspiracy theories swiftly began to spread: Republican polling places were being targeted; Democrats overseeing elections were trying to disenfranchise Republicans.
“The feeling early on in the day was panic — concern — which grew to overwhelming panic,” said Cook, a 26-year-old native of Luzerne County. “And then at some point throughout the day, there was definitely a feeling of people are starting to point fingers — before the day was over, before things were even investigated.”
The paper shortage, corrected later in the day, turned out to be an administrative oversight by a new staff but has had consequences that are still rippling through the county of 200,000 voters, sowing doubt about how elections are run and leading to a congressional hearing.
It also serves as a cautionary tale about the perils of a change that has been largely hidden from public view but has transformed the election landscape across the U.S. since the 2020 presidential election: an exodus of local election directors and their staff. [Continue reading…]