Meet some of the new people stepping up to run elections A recent survey found that 20% of election workers say they are unlikely to continue in their role in the 2024 election cycle. Here are some of the new faces joining the ranks.

Many harried election officials are eyeing the exit. But new workers are stepping up

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AYESHA RASCOE, HOST:

Election officials are calling it quits. Why? Well, there's the pandemic and voting rule changes, along with harassment and threats, and not just former President Trump and his high-profile supporters. But as Georgia Public Broadcasting's Stephen Fowler has found, a new crop of public servants is coming up to replace the ones leaving.

DOROTHY GLISSON: I would like to ask you all to do this for me. The first-time attendees, please stand.

STEPHEN FOWLER, BYLINE: As president of Georgia's association of election officials, Dorothy Glisson has been around voting for a long time. But at a recent conference near the University of Georgia, she's a little surprised that most of her colleagues, well, have not.

GLISSON: I would say that we probably got as many first-time attendees as we do all of the others put together. So that tells us something.

FOWLER: The event brought together more than 500 of the state's election staffers for three days of training. The new faces follow a 2020 election cycle that was grueling for election workers in America. COVID cut back on polls and shifted to more mail-in voting, while bad actors questioned changes and sought to undermine results. Many election workers are looking toward the exits. A recent Brennan Center survey finds 20% of them say they're not likely to serve in the 2024 elections. Some people are stepping up to fill the void, like former teacher Mary Kay Clyburn in Morgan County, Ga.

MARY KAY CLYBURN: I have always firmly believed that everybody who possibly can should vote.

FOWLER: She'd been a poll worker and manager and volunteered with the League of Women Voters. But when a call for new election board members went out last year, something clicked.

CLYBURN: No. 1, I was always taught you can't complain if you don't do something to try to fix it. So this was my chance.

FOWLER: No. 2, false claims of voter fraud made her angry and, frankly, felt personal.

CLYBURN: People I knew, people in my family, talking about what they thought was possible election fraud. And I said, you're saying I do that. I'm a poll worker. Do you think I would do that? And they'd be - well, no, not you.

FOWLER: Running elections is a full-time commitment. I called Aaron Joyce, the city clerk and treasurer in rural Richland Center, Wis., just ahead of this week's local races.

Is now a good time?

AARON JOYCE: Well, can I be totally honest with you? We have an election coming up on Tuesday, so I'm a little swamped with that and some other things.

FOWLER: Joyce used to work for the local radio station in Richland Center before joining city government.

JOYCE: The last couple of years with COVID has been a real challenge.

FOWLER: Wisconsin, like Georgia, has seen its fair share of election controversies and hardships in that time, too. There's been a partisan review of election results, chaos with the state's redistricting process and whiplash over voting rules and things like absentee drop boxes. Joyce says he wished more people could see how much work goes into making the voting process easy, smooth and safe.

JOYCE: All of the people involved with the elections are there to ensure that people have the opportunity to vote and not the opportunity to vote for who the election official wants to vote for, but who the voter wants to vote for.

FOWLER: In Georgia, at the elections training conference, the theme of the week cast attendees as election superheroes. Tyrell Golden isn't wearing a cape and doesn't see himself as a hero, but as the new voter registration manager of suburban Clayton County, he's stepping into a much-needed role.

TYRELL GOLDEN: There is just a big, you know, turnover in leadership in elections, just like I'm sure there are in other industries. And so it's just the time now for my generation and even the ones after me and older than me to step up into these positions, because without voting in elections, I don't see how the democracy will carry on.

FOWLER: The exodus of experienced election officials means a tremendous loss of institutional knowledge that goes beyond following the letter of the law. But at 28 years old, Golden is ready to use his leadership position to show voters the election process can be trusted.

GOLDEN: You know, the people that are there from 6 a.m. till midnight, you know, every day for two or three months straight, are the same people you see every day at church, (laughter) the same people you see at the grocery store. So I just think, you know, it's important to extend grace, because at the end of the day, everyone is just there to complete their job, to do so accurately and within constitutional statutes.

FOWLER: In what's shaping up to be a crucial election year in battleground states, these new workers will face their biggest tests yet. Georgia's statewide primary is in May and Wisconsin's in August.

For NPR News, I'm Stephen Fowler in Athens, Ga.

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