The State of Election Administration in 2022

November 2, 2022

In a nation of over 258.3 million eligible voters, election officials’ myriad duties differ from jurisdiction to jurisdiction—small to large, rural to urban—and from voter to voter. Despite these many differences, there are common themes and predictable challenges faced by every official. And of course, every official has experienced unforeseen events and unexpected circumstances that force them to assess, reform, and adapt. As any official will tell you, there is always another election on the horizon. 

The Democracy Fund/Reed College Survey of Local Election Officials provides a window into the attitudes, actions, and needs of the public servants who manage US elections. Surveys during the last three election cycles have illustrated the stable features of the system and the way that the challenges of the moment impact the people administering the democratic process.  

Local Election Officials

More than half of election officials are elected – 57 percent overall, but in small jurisdictions with fewer than 5,000 registered voters that increases to 67 percent – while 27 percent are appointed, and 15 percent are hired to fill a position. Just over half of these races are partisan and the other half are non-partisan, and the vast majority of elected officials (81 percent) ran uncontested in the general election. The need to attract candidates and talent will only continue to grow as veteran officials leave the field in growing numbers. 

In the 2018 survey, officials’ recent experiences with foreign interference in election cybersecurity impacted the complexity of their work. In 2020, the pandemic and extraordinary polarization of the candidates and the electorate created stress and rapid change in methods of voting that election officials had to manage. The 2022 survey illustrates more emergent challenges as election officials report coping with the combinations of mis- and disinformation about elections, violence against election officials, and extreme partisan disparities in the public’s confidence in election results. 

All of this is happening in an environment where the biggest disparity in the election system continues to be geographic. Elections are managed by local jurisdictions and there are tremendous differences between election offices that serve the largest and smallest populations. Seventy-five percent of all offices serve only 8 percent of voters, and 8 percent of our election offices serve 75 percent of voters. This disparity is driven by the fact that the largest 2 percent of offices serve half of the nation’s voters.  

Graphic of building and people stating that 75% of local election officials serve 8% of voters

Graphic of building and people stating that 8% of local election officals serve 75% of voters


The impact of an increased election-related workload is disproportionally higher on smaller jurisdictions than their counterparts in medium and large jurisdictions. This should not be surprising since one third of all election offices do not have even one full-time employee. In small jurisdictions that serve less than 5,000 voters that number increases to 53 percent. The increased workload for many may have been the result of concerted campaigns to flood election offices with Freedom of Information Act requests around the 2020 election based on conspiracy and conjecture. 

Graph of different jurisdiction sizes by number of voters showing that nearly one-third of election offices have no full-time elections officials.

Each election cycle, the Democracy Fund/Reed College Local Election Official (LEO) Survey has asked local officials about key aspects of their work including preparedness for the upcoming election, job satisfaction, and training needs for the election officials and members of their staffs. 

LEOs retain a commitment to meeting the demands of their jobs and the challenges of finding adequate polling locations and poll workers – especially sufficient bilingual workers and accessible facilities – persist with varying degrees across jurisdiction sizes.  

Overall job satisfaction among LEOs remains high, but there are cracks in the veneer. The percentage of LEOs who do not think they can maintain a work/life balance has increased and the percentage who say their workload is reasonable has dropped since 2018. 

Graphic showing 3 in 10 local election officials will be eligible to retire before the 2024 election and that nearly 1 in 5 plan to leave before 2024.

Among the 2022 survey participants, close to one third of the election officials are eligible to retire before the 2024 election—and 39 percent of those eligible plan to do so. Of these respondents, retirement eligibility is the highest reason for leaving the field (51 percent) but “I do not like the changes in my work environment that occurred during and after the November 2020 election” (42 percent) and “I do not enjoy the political environment” (37 percent) followed close behind. For those who are not near retirement age their number one reason for leaving the field was cited as “changes in how elections are administered make the work unsatisfying” (48 percent) and an alarming 28 percent citing that they plan to leave the field based on “concerns about my health or personal safety, aside from COVID concerns.” 

Disruption in the Field 

One in four respondents have experienced threats of violence. Officials across all jurisdiction sizes and political affiliations experienced these threats, but the threat environment is much more severe in larger jurisdictions compared to smaller jurisdictions. For example, while 14 percent of LEOs serving jurisdictions with less than 5,000 registered voters told us that they had experienced abuse, harassment, or threats, the percentage increases to two-thirds of LEOs serving in the largest jurisdictions. Similarly, 20 percent of LEOs who told us they were Republicans said they experienced threats, compared to 30 percent of Independents and 34 percent of Democrats. These differences should not disguise the overall result: threats against LEOs are far too real, far too regular, and far too common.

Graph stating that 1 in 4 local election officials experienced abuse or threats as part of their work in the last 2 years. 63% were politically-based.

The preponderance of threats targeting election officials are politically based threats. Our 2022 survey showed that 63 percent of threats received were politically motivated. The narrative driving these threats—that the 2020 election was illegitimate and that LEOs were complicit in allowing the election to be stolen–-has manifested in threats to election professionals and their families, and changes to state election laws. More than half (55 percent) of the survey respondents said that they have had legislation passed that impacts how they conduct the election—with 35 percent saying those changes improved election administration and 46 percent saying the new laws did not improve election administration.  

Graph stating: 24% of LEOs said they were not consulted on policy decisions. 50% said their community was not consulted, 55% said policies were passed that impact election administration.

The majority – 66 percent – of election officials surveyed this year expressed concern about threats and harassment. When asked how seriously various organizations take the threats to election officials, 43 percent said that their state’s chief election official (in most states, the secretary of state) takes the threats “very seriously.” However, LEOs felt that others took the threats far less seriously: only 27 percent for local law enforcement, 25 percent for federal law enforcement, 17 percent for the state legislature and for the national media, 14 percent for the local media, and 12 percent for the U.S. Congress.            

About the Survey and Interviews 

The 2022 survey of local election officials was a self-administered web and hardcopy survey conducted from June 21 to September 22, 2022. This study used a LEO sample collected by the team, with a sampling frame based in part on national lists of local election officials and the sizes of their jurisdictions. From this frame, the team drew a sample of 3,118 LEOs, sampling jurisdictions in proportion to the number of registered voters they serve and targeting the chief election official in each jurisdiction to complete the survey. A total of 912 LEOs completed the survey, including 652 surveys completed via web (71 percent) and 260 (29 percent) completed via hardcopy with an overall response rate of 30 percent.   

Survey findings are often presented by jurisdiction size to understand differences in experiences. 

  • Fifty-seven percent of local election officials serve in jurisdictions of 5,000 or fewer voters. 
  • Twenty-seven percent serve in jurisdictions of 5,001 to 25,000 voters. 
  • Ten percent serve in jurisdictions of 25,001 to 75,000 voters. 
  • Six percent serve in jurisdictions of more than 75,000 voters. 

While most officials serve in small jurisdictions, the vast majority of voters live in large jurisdictions — over 70 percent of voters live in jurisdictions with more than 75,000 voters and are served by only 500 officials. It’s important to consider the possible differences in scale, responsibility, and resources between different jurisdiction sizes when interpreting results from any survey of this population. Where overall results are presented, they are weighted to ensure that means can be generalized to local election officials nationwide. Further information about the sampling and weighting process is available at the Reed College Elections & Voting Information Center’s project website.  

Explore additional 2022 content and learn more about the Democracy Fund/Reed College Survey of Local Election Officials through Reed College’s Elections & Voting Information Center. Prior publications from the survey series are also available below.  


Reflection on the Impact of Investing in Voter Centric Election Administration

July 28, 2022

From its inception, Democracy Fund has invested in organizations supporting election administration. We believe that well-functioning election operations are a core component of a healthy election system. At the end of 2021, we commissioned an independent evaluation of the Elections & Voting Program’s Voter Centric Election Administration portfolio to review how our theory of change was executed and how the election system has shifted. Here, we reflect on the findings from that evaluation and invite you to read the full report 

Voter Centric Election Administration Portfolio History

The landscape of election administration in 2014 is a far cry from what we experience today. At that time, the findings of the Bipartisan Presidential Commission on Election Administration were widely praised and pointed the way toward evidence-based solutions to election challenges – such as long lines at the polls and errors on voter lists – that made use of developments in technology. Election administration has always been complicated, especially in the highly-decentralized U.S. system. However from 2014-2016, the field experienced clarity of purpose and a relatively-uncontentious bipartisan consensus on best practices to move the field forward. 

In this context, Democracy Fund developed a theory of change that focused on two needs of the field:

  1. Strong networks of election administrators for knowledge-sharing across and within states
  2. Innovative practices and technology designed for election administrators to use. 

To meet the first need, we identified the leaders of state election administrator associations and hosted convenings with them twice a year in a “train the trainer” model, whereby they would learn best-in-class practices to take back to their state associations of election officials. For the second need, we invested in a wide range of civic technology tools, research, and guides developed by civil society organizations that could be used by administrators to better serve voters. Our goal was to scale and spread practices that would improve the voting experience nationwide.  

Evaluation of the Portfolio’s Impact

An evaluation of the portfolio’s impact, conducted by Fernandez Advisors, focused on the ways that election officials at the state and local level have engaged in Democracy Fund’s network convenings and used tools, training, and resources in which we have invested. The report found that investing in tools and resources for election administrators helped the field adapt to shifts in voter expectations for online services and new voting methods. Our grantees’ programs helped to improve the design of election websites and ballots, helped administrators adapt to early voting and mail voting policies, and helped voters learn where to find a polling place or ballot drop box easily and accurately. These are just a few examples of the ways our grantees supported administrators’ efforts to serve voters.  

This portfolio was especially well-timed to meet the unusual needs of the 2020 election when many states rapidly adjusted their voting policies and practices to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. Many states offered voters more flexibility to vote early at home or at voter centers in order to avoid crowds at Election Day polling places. These states could not have rapidly adopted new voting methods without following the examples of states that had spent years innovating and experimenting with flexible voting practices. Democracy Fund grantees were instrumental in helping states learn quickly from these examples because they had documented implementation processes and offered technical assistance. 

While network-building, tools, and research have been instrumental in improving election administration, the failure of local and state governments to adequately resource election offices remains a significant problem. Significant and ongoing technology changes (such as online voter registration and ballot tracking) present adoption challenges for many election administrators and their staff due to both the lack of funding for technology investments and maintenance and the difficulty covering the range of expertise needed with the very small staffs that manage elections in all but the largest jurisdictions. For example, election officials interviewed for the evaluation report that they do not have the capacity to counter growing mis- and disinformation targeted toward voters. 

The job of managing elections has grown increasing complex as the field faces new challenges. Local election officials must be experts in many areas: human resources, information technology, direct mail processing, public relations, cybersecurity, and more. Most election officials are managing this load with little staff capacity. In the 2020 Democracy Fund/Reed College Survey of Local Election Officials, over half of respondents said they work in an office with just one or two staff members who may not even be full-time. Participants in Democracy Fund’s state association convenings praised the information and opportunity to share knowledge and resources with peers from other states and bring ideas back to their colleagues. However, limited staff capacity and urgent demands makes it difficult for many officials to spend time adopting new practices.  

Summary of Findings & Key Takeaways

When Democracy Fund began investing in civil society organizations focused on election administration, it was still a young field, with limited philanthropic investments supporting the work. We used a systems and complexity approach to analyze the needs of the field and identify the gaps and leverage points that could improve the health of election administration. We played a role in catalyzing new nonprofit organizations that support election officials and in funding emerging election sciences research. The COVID-19 pandemic upended the 2020 primary elections and made evident the importance of well-resourced and well-functioning election administration. In response, the field of organizations supporting election administration scaled up as more donors began funding this work. Even as the context shifts over time and the field adapts, strong election administration is essential to the health of a just and equitable election system.  



Language Access for Voters Summit 2021

February 17, 2022
Removing Language Barriers from the Voting Process

Democracy Fund’s Language Access for Voters Summit is an annual event that aims to remove language barriers from the voting process. The 2021 convening was held Dec. 13-14, 2021, following the Dec. 8th release of the Census Bureau’s new Section 203 language determinations under the Voting Rights Act—which provide language assistance in U.S. elections.

To help election officials navigate and implement the necessary changes, the agenda included discussions with local, state and federal election officials, voting rights advocates, and translation experts. Participants shared pragmatic ideas, tools, and best practices for providing language assistance—focusing officials’ immediate needs in the lead-up to the 2022 midterm elections.

Celebrating the Diversity of Languages in the United States

The two-day event featured a collection of speaker-submitted videos in Armenian, Bengali, Dine’ (Navajo), English, Korean, Mandarin, Spanish, and Yup’ik. These represent a small sample of the languages election officials provide voter assistance for across the United States.

Speakers read the 2020 Presidential Election ballot in various languages from their jurisdictions, highlighted the critical value of language and culture integration in formal settings like polling places, and shared personal stories of how language access has played a role in their own life or someone they love.

The topics, presentations, materials and resources for each day of the Dec. 2021 summit can be viewed and downloaded below.

Knowing It’s Right: Limiting the Risk of Certifying Elections

May 22, 2020

Every election we ask ourselves, what motivates voters to participate? Could it be the love of a charismatic candidate? The dislike of a less-than-desirable one? Passion for a specific ballot initiative? Do voters show up to the polls out of habit? The answer is as varied as the voting population, as is the reason voters do not participate.

Research shows that while voters’ confidence in their own vote being counted accurately remains relatively constant, their belief that results at the national level are correct is in decline. As we work through reestablishing trust in our elections following Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s 22-month long investigation, the threat of interference in our elections by another nation-state remains.

The American public wants to believe that when they vote it means something—we are teaching elections officials about a new way to audit our elections and check for the accuracy every voter deserves. As with most election administration processes, implementation success lies in preparation—and Risk Limiting Audits (RLAs), which some proponents often refer to as the “cheap and easy” method to check the accuracy of the results, are no exception.

Democracy Fund recently launched the Election Validation Project to increase trust in elections through rigorous audits, standards, and testing. Part of this project is the release of Knowing it’s Right—the first Risk-Limiting Audit report which serves as a summary to capture where we currently stand on risk-limiting audits; an overview of what policymakers need to know; and as a guide or workbook on how practitioners can prepare to implement. The materials demonstrate the rigor that a jurisdiction needs to go through in order to conduct a meaningful audit, the decisions that need to be made along the way, and what to contemplate as this relatively young procedure continues to evolve.

The what and the how of an RLA are not well understood by many, which is why we created guidance for elections administrators to save time, money and ensure that the correct candidate won.

The idea is simple, although not many people have heard of a risk-limiting audit. Risk-limiting audit is a post-election audit that takes a random sample of voted ballots and manually examines those ballots for evidence the originally reported outcome is correct. An RLA limits the risk of certifying a contest with the wrong winner.

We are proud to support Jennifer Morrell, a nationally recognized election official with over eight years of experience managing local elections, to lead the Election Validation Project and spearhead the outreach on this guidance. Morrell’s work in Colorado was instrumental in the successful implementation of the first statewide risk-limiting audit and she has since spent time traveling across the country working on post-election audits. This report is the cumulative documentation of her effort.

We believe sound election administration policy and its practical application can ensure the American electorate is well served and that our democracy is strong. We are dedicated to that work and appreciate all who strive for that ideal along with us.


Improving Motor Voter Registration: A Colorado Case Study

Lisa Danetz
January 9, 2020

Over the past few years, I’ve traveled across the United States working to understand and improve state motor voter registration services, as yet another step towards ensuring all eligible individuals have the opportunity to register to vote in the United States. My goal has been to learn from each state’s experience, share its findings with others, and encourage strong connections between the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) officials – who, through the motor voter process, are now the source of 45% of the nation’s voter registration activity – and the election officials who administer the elections.

Colorado, in particular, has stood out as a state that has implemented one of the more modern, collaborative, and user-friendly motor voter registration systems in the country.

In five years, Colorado implemented motor voter registration upgrades including updated policies and technology, and successfully transformed an inefficient multi-step paper-based system into a modern streamlined electronic automatic voter registration system that complies with the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA). These changes led to a decrease in DMV transaction time by 20 to 30 seconds, contributed (along with a larger DMV IT system modernization) to a four-minute reduction in the DMV’s initial wait time, and increased access and usage of motor voter registration opportunities.


While each state has its own set of obstacles to navigate – like differing agency priorities, resource shortages, bureaucratic resistance, and technology challenges – Colorado’s story of success can serve as a guide to overcoming these obstacles to serve a state’s citizens and ultimately improve the strength of our democracy. Most notably:

1. Relationship Development

In Colorado, relationship development was key. Both Elections Director Judd Choate and DMV Senior Director Mike Dixon recognized and prioritized relationship-building and communication between their offices to address and upgrade the state’s motor voter registration processes. Over several years, the development of a strong and trusted relationship between their teams allowed process upgrades to come to fruition. The initiation of the state’s NVRA Working Group was especially significant, bringing all stakeholders together to provide input and buy-in, and to recognize the potential of the DMV IT system modernization project.

2. Internal Advocacy

Differing missions and priorities between agencies do not need to be a roadblock. In particular, while voter registration is one of the core concerns of elections agencies like the Colorado Department of State (CDOS), it is simply one of many responsibilities handled by the DMV—and one for which they often do not receive direct funding. That can make it difficult for an entity like a DMV to prioritize process changes when what’s in place seems to work. The legal memos and explanatory presentations that CDOS prepared for CDOR helped move along the understanding of the need to make process fixes—and the resulting benefits.

3. Investment of Resources

More frequently than not, process changes involve the investment of significant resources – both time and money – and these process changes were no different. Fortunately, the Colorado DMV was already planning an IT modernization of its driver’s license system. Including motor-voter registration modifications was a cost-effective method to improve that system as well. The costs for the motor voter changes were easily absorbed into the project. In addition, for those upgrades that were not part of the original DMV system modernization, CDOS paid for the DMV motor voter registration technology upgrades and worked with the Colorado Department of Revenue (which houses the DMV) to write the requirements.


Perhaps the most important lesson to be learned from Colorado’s experience is that our systems must constantly adapt and evolve to fit the changing needs of our citizens and voters. In fact, the Colorado legislature recently passed a bill in May 2019 that requires the state to adopt and implement “Oregon style” automatic voter registration by July 2020. As the state prepares to implement this latest set of changes, it is the perfect time to examine the breadth of the already-implemented process upgrades and the robust data available about their impacts to date. While what works for one state is not a guarantee that it will work in another, Colorado’s efforts provide important lessons for policymakers to consider in devising their own motor voter registration upgrade plans.

To receive a copy of the Colorado case study, and to learn more about Democracy Fund’s work on motor voter registration and NVRA compliance, please contact

Lisa Danetz conducts this work on behalf of Democracy Fund, and has worked in the voting rights, money in politics, and democracy field as a policy expert, advocate, and lawyer for 20 years. She has developed a particular expertise on voter registration through government agencies and, most recently, has been doing work within the AAMVA (DMV) community to provide information and support related to their voter registration and election responsibilities. In addition to her work with Democracy Fund, she has worked with Demos and the National Voting Rights Institute, among others. She received her B.S. from Yale University and her J.D. cum laude from New York University School of Law.


Stewards of Democracy: The Views of American Local Election Officials

Natalie Adona, Paul Gronke, Paul Manson, and Sarah Cole
June 26, 2019

Local elections officials (LEOs) are the stewards of our democracy, but oftentimes they are left out of important conversations about the future of our elections nationwide. The LEOs from our survey are the chief elections officers in their local jurisdictions. Not to be confused with poll workers, the LEOs surveyed in our new report oversee local election processes and are responsible for ensuring the voting process is fair, free, and secure. Among their many responsibilities, LEOs execute the election laws in their state, make decisions that define the voter experience, and train the permanent and temporary employees that interact with the electorate.

It might be hard to imagine but (depending on how you count) between 7,000-10,000 local election officials manage the front line of elections in the United States. Despite their recognition as the people who run elections, LEOs are often left out of national conversations about reform and may not have a seat at the table when important policy decisions are made at the local, state, or federal levels—decisions that they alone will ultimately implement.

Stewards of Democracy: The Views of American Local Election Officials details the findings of the Democracy Fund-Reed College 2018 Survey of Local Election Officials (2018 LEO Survey), and is part of our effort to create a space for these stewards of democracy to be heard. The survey is designed to capture the collective experience of officials across the country, and to help us learn more about their perspectives on election administration, access, integrity, and reform. The results should be interpreted as a snapshot of opinion taken in the midst of a competitive midterm election.

More than 1,000 LEOs from across the country responded to our survey. Our survey respondents serve over 81 million registered voters. They manage offices with staffs of one or two in the smallest jurisdictions to over 1,000 employees in the largest (not including poll workers). Our hope is that this report will be the start of an ongoing attempt to elevate LEO’s voices in efforts to modernize and secure American elections.

The report breaks down the findings of the survey into four sections:

  • Meet Your Local Election Official – This section provides data on the professional and demographic profile of the typical LEO including LEO workload, years in service, pay, professional training and other demographic information.
  • Running the 2018 Election – This section covers findings on 2018 election preparedness including information on resources, staff, meeting the challenges of cybersecurity, and confidence in voter registration list security.
  • Voter-Centric Elections: Education and Outreach – This section discusses LEO attitudes regarding accessibility, including voter education and outreach.
  • Improving Elections Using New and Old Tools – This section focuses on the adoption of modernization and of technology, such as online voter registration and automatic voter registration systems to improve elections. It also covers our analysis of LEO opinions, in their own words, on how they think elections can be improved, including legislative and policy changes involving voting.

The bottom line is that all the LEOs we surveyed care deeply about their ability to administer elections in an accessible, efficient, and secure fashion. We were particularly moved by how our survey demonstrated LEOs’ dedication to a positive voter experience and to nonpartisan election administration. Respondents in our survey made it clear that they have and will continue to be good stewards of democracy—but resources, staffing, and coordination between state and local officials are areas of concern.

We plan to solicit LEO opinions again, at different times, using different lenses. We hope that our efforts encourage conversations and collaboration with LEOs and lead to reforms that best serve the American electorate—providing policymakers with invaluable insight into the makeup of the election administration field and its evolving needs as it hopefully becomes more diverse in the coming years.

Democracy Fund’s Elections Program supports, among other things, nonprofit organizations that improve elections processes and provide assistance to election officials themselves. As we work with grantees and partners, we are reminded time and again of the important role of the LEOs ensuring that our voices are heard.


Celebrating Women Who Are Making Democracy Stronger

March 26, 2019

By Anne Gleich, Jessica Harris, and Jessica Mahone


In the first presidential proclamation celebrating women’s contributions to United States history, President Reagan observed: “American women of every race, creed and ethnic background helped found and build our Nation in countless recorded and unrecorded ways … Their diverse service is among America’s most precious gifts.”

As pioneers, teachers, mothers, soldiers, journalists, inventors, lawmakers, laborers and so many other roles, women have and continue to make vital contributions to American economic, political, and social life. Throughout our history, women have not only advocated to secure their own rights of suffrage and equal opportunity, but were also early leaders in the abolitionist, temperance, mental health, labor, and social reform movements, as well as the modern civil rights movement. It is not hyperbole to say that the United States has been transformed by these generations of women, and our democracy has been strengthened through their courage, creativity, and persistence.

As we commemorate Women’s History Month at Democracy Fund, we also want to take some time to celebrate our incredible women-led and women-focused grantees who today are continuing this long tradition of public service and leadership.

Women are leading efforts to improve our elections and make sure every vote counts.

At Democracy Fund, we believe that voting is the cornerstone of our democracy. Through our Elections Program, we are proud to support many innovative American women who are leading efforts to ensure our elections are free, fair, accessible, and secure.

Tianna Epps Johnson, founder of the Center for Technology and Civic Life, is building free and low-cost tech tools to help local election officials better engage with their communities and modernize elections. Electionline, run by Editor-in-Chief Mindy Moretti, is providing news and information about election administration and reform across all 50 states and has created a hub for elections officials to network, learn from each other, and collaborate on ways to improve the voting process.

When it comes to accessibility, many Americans still face barriers that prevent them from participating in the election process. Michelle Bishop and the National Disability Rights Network are educating election officials, equipment vendors, advocates, and the public on the need for fully accessible elections. Terry Ao Minnis, Democracy Fund Senior Fellow and Director of the Census and Voting programs at Asian Americans for Advancing Justice, is working to ensure a fair and accurate Census so that all Americans receive the resources and assistance they need to participate in our democracy. And Whitney Quesenbery and Dana Chisnell at the Center for Civic Design are bringing user experience principles to the design of forms and tools that will make voting easier for all voters. Kei Kawashima-Ginsberg at CIRCLE at Tufts University and the historic League of Women Voters, under the leadership of Virginia Kase, are innovating new ways to inform and engage women voters across the political spectrum.

Jennifer Morrell, a former Colorado election official, is working with state election officials to develop and implement new testing and auditing procedures to ensure votes are counted correctly, and results are reported accurately. And Mari Dugas and the Cyber Security Project and Defending Digital Democracy has published several playbooks to help campaign and election officials defend themselves against cyberattacks and information operations aimed at undermining trust in the American election system.

Women from both sides of the aisle are working together to create a Congress that looks more like America.

Even though we just saw a historic election cycle where a record-setting number of women ran for elected office and won, we still have a long way to go until women are fully represented in the United States. That is why, through our Governance Program, Democracy Fund is proud to support many leaders and organizations that are working to equip women with the skills they need to participate in politics, run for office, and lead once elected.

ReflectUS, a nonpartisan coalition working to increase the number of women in office and achieve equal representation across the racial, ideological, ethnic, and geographic spectrum, is fostering collaboration among seven of the nation’s leading training organizations to help equip more women to run, win, and serve. The Women’s Public Leadership Network aims to increase the number of women under consideration for political and government-related appointments and is growing a network and support system for conservative women who are interested in running for elected office or participating in our political system. Latinas Lead, a new program from The National Hispanic Caucus of State Legislators, helps current Latina state legislators scale the leadership ranks in their State Capitols, as well as recruit potential Latina candidates for state-level office.

Once women are elected, the National Foundation of Women Legislators provides resources and opportunities to develop leadership skills and build professional and personal relationships across the aisle through regular conferences, state outreach, educational materials, and more. The Women’s Congressional Policy Institute, lead by Cindy Hall and a bipartisan board of female former legislators, has been bringing women policymakers together across party lines to advance issues of importance to women and their families for over twenty years. With our support, they have also launched several programs to foster women’s leadership on Capitol Hill through the Congressional Women’s Caucus and the Women Chiefs of Staff Program. We are also supporters of the Congressional Women’s Softball Game— a yearly event to foster bipartisan relationships between women Members of Congress and their counterparts in the D.C. Press Corps.

Women journalists are holding our leaders accountable and creating opportunities for the next generation of reporters.

Women play a vital role in holding leaders accountable once they’ve been elected. Although the majority of journalism and communications graduates are women, the majority of newsroom workers, particularly leaders, are men. Holding leaders accountable to all Americans requires a news industry that is inclusive and represents all communities, which is why, through our Public Square Program, we are proud to support organizations and leaders that are working to change America’s newsrooms and create new resources to inform and serve their communities.

By pioneering innovative new methods that newsrooms can use to better listen to and collaborate with the communities they serve, Bettina Chang at CityBureau and Sarah Alvarez and an all-woman staff at Outlier Media are rethinking how journalism is done. The Obsidian Collection, led by Angela Ford, is working to promote the importance of Black media in the United States, preserve the stories of Black communities through archiving, and build a blueprint for future generations in Black media.

Founded by Nikole Hannah Jones, The Ida B. Wells Society for Investigative Reporting is dedicated to increasing the number of and retaining reporters and editors of color in the field of investigative reporting by providing low-cost regional trainings in the use of advanced technology, open records laws, advanced interviewing techniques and other investigative techniques. The Ida B. Wells Society partners with organizations such as the National Association for Black Journalists, Investigative Reporters and Editors, and Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) to provide access to journalists and aspiring journalists of color who want to sharpen their investigative reporting skills and broaden their professional networks.

Take the Lead’s 50 Women Can Change the World in Journalism training program harnesses the collective power of women in journalism to build a more just and equal world, advance their careers, and work together to re-envision journalism. According to co-founder Gloria Feldt, Take the Lead’s goal is “nothing less than gender parity by 2025.”

Women are leading efforts to combat hate in America and build bridges across our divides.

Like many who care about the health of our political system, we at Democracy Fund have been alarmed by increasing tribalism and extremism across the United States, including the implementation of policies targeting immigrant and minority communities and the rise in hate-crimes against communities of color, and Jewish, Muslim, Arab, and South Asian communities. We’re partnering with leaders and organizations that are working to ensure the resilience and safety of targeted communities through our Special Project on Fostering a Just and Inclusive Society.

Grantees like Sherrilyn Ifill at the NAACP-LDF, Kristen Clarke at the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights, Marielena Hincapie at the National Immigration Law Center, and Aarti Kohli at the Asian Law Caucus are leading efforts to protect those whose civil rights and safety are endangered in this volatile political moment. Purvi Shah and Movement Law Lab are incubating projects that combine law and community organizing to protect, defend, and strengthen racial justice movements. To inform national conversations, Meira Neggaz and Dahlia Mogahed at the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding provide case studies and data on the day-to-day challenges many Muslims face, as well as actionable recommendations for breaking the structural barriers that hinder the American Muslim community from full inclusion and participation. And Samar Ali is leading the Millions of Conversations campaign to engage communities across the country in changing the narrative about Muslims in America.

In this blog, we could only highlight a few of the remarkable women leaders whose whose organizations, programs, and projects Democracy Fund is proud to support. We hope you’ll take some time to explore the complete list below. By working to improve our elections, hold our government accountable, combat hate, and open doors for the next generation, these women are making their mark on American history right now—and our democracy will be stronger because of them.


Bonnie Allen, Chicago Lawyers’ Committee

Pam Anderson, Consultant for Voter Centric Election Administration

Michelle Bishop, National Disability Rights Network

Mitchell Brown, Capacity and Governance Institute

Jamie Chesser, National States Geographic Information Council

Dana Chisnell, Center for Civic Design

Kristen Clarke, Lawyers Committee for Civil RIghts

Lisa Danetz, National Voter Registration Act Compliance Consultant

Mari Dugas, Belfer Center Cybersecurity and Defending Digital Democracy

Tiana Epps Johnson, Center for Technology and Civic Life

Rebecca Green, William & Mary Law School eBenchbook

Astrid Garcia Ochoa, Future of California Elections

Kathleen Hale, Capacity and Governance Institute

Karen Hobert Flynn, Common Cause

Shanna Hughey, ThinkTennessee

Sharon Jarvis, Moody College of Communications, University of Texas

Virginia Kase, League of Women Voters

Kei Kawashima-Ginsberg, CIRCLE at Tufts University

Kate Krontiris, Voter Turnout consultant

Nsombi Lambright, One Voice

Susan Lerner, Common Cause New York

Amber McReynolds, Vote at Home

Gretchen Macht, RI VOTES at University of Rhode Island

Mimi Marziani, Texas Civil Rights Project

Terry Ao Minnis, Asian Americans for Advancing Justice

Mindy Moretti, Electionline

Jennifer Morrell, Risk-Limiting Audits consultant

Katy Owens Hubler, Common Data and Elections Process Model consultant

Katy Peters, Democracy Works

Wendy Quesenbery, Center for Civic Design

Ashley Spillane, Impactual

Wendy Underhill, National Conference of State Legislatures


Erica Bernal, NALEO Educational Fund

Danielle Brian, Project On Government Oversight

Louise Dube, iCivics

Mindy Finn, Empowered Women

Sylvia Golbin Goodman, Andrew Goodman Foundation

Rosalind Gold, NALEO Educational Fund

Dr. Mary Grant, Edward M. Kennedy Institute

Cindy Hall, Women’s Congressional Policy Institute

Cherie Harder, Trinity Forum

Marci Harris, PopVox

Dr. Carla Hayden, Library of Congress

Audrey Henson, College to Congress

Lorelei Kelly, Beeck Center

Sheila Krumholz, Center for Responsive Politics

Frances Lee, UMD Interdisciplinary Polarization Research

Dr. Carolyn Lukensmeyer, National Institute for Civil Discourse

Tamera Luzzatto, Pew Safe Spaces Project

Maya MacGuineas, Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget

Angela Manso, Staff Up Congress, NALEO Educational Fund

Meredith McGehee, Issue One

Darla Minnich, National Issues Forum Institute

Joan Mooney, Faith and Politics Institute

Jennifer Nassour, ReflectUS

Beth Simone Noveck, NYU GovLab

Michelle Payne, Congressional Sports for Charity

Rachel Peric, Welcoming America

Lisa Rosenberg, Open the Government

Laura Rosenberger, Alliance for Securing Democracy at the German Marshall Fund

Sonal Shah, Beeck Center

Suzanne Spaulding, Defending Democracy Initiative, Center for Strategic and International Studies

Michele Stockwell, Bipartisan Policy Center Action

Jody Thomas, National Foundation for Women Legislators

Sarah Turberville, The Constitution Project at POGO


Sarah Alvarez, Outlier Media

Bettina Chang, City Bureau

Heather Chaplin, The New School for Journalism + Design

Meredith Clark, University of Virginia/ASNE Diversity Survey

Sue Cross, Institute for Nonprofit News

Gloria Feldt, Take the Lead

Leslie Fields-Cruz, Black Public Media

Angela Ford, The Obsidian Collection

Martha Foye, Working Narratives

Lackisha Freeman, WNCU

Sarah Gustavus, New Mexico Local News Fund

Elizabeth Green, Chalkbeat, American Journalism Project

Andrea Hart, City Bureau

Hadar Harris, Student Press Law Center

Rose Hoban, NC Health News

Deborah Holt Noel, UNC-TV Black Issues Forum

Janey Hurley, Asheville Writers in the Schools

Paola Jaramillo, Enlace Latino North Carolina

Nikole Hannah Jones, The Ida B. Wells Society for Investigative Reporting

Mollie Kabler, Coast Alaska

Regina Lawrence, Agora Journalism Center

Sally Lehrman, Trust Project

Joy Mayer, Trusting News Project

Stefanie Murray, Center for Cooperative Media at Montclair State University

Tamiko Ambrose Murray, Asheville Writers in the Schools

Amy Niles, WBGO

Angie Newsome, Carolina Public Press

Suzanne Nossel, Pen America

Erika Owens, OpenNews

Tracie Powell, Democracy Fund Senior Fellow

Angelique Powers, Field Foundation

Kristy Roschke, News Co/Lab at Arizona State University

Melanie Sill, Senior Consultant for North Carolina Local News Lab

Sheila Solomon, Senior Consultant for Chicago

Michelle Srbinovich, WDET

Talia Stroud, Center for Media Engagement at the University of Texas at Austin

Katie Townsend, Reporters Committee for Press Freedom Litigation Program

Naomi Tacuyan Underwood, Asian American Journalists Association

Mary Walter Brown, News Revenue Hub

Nancy Watzman, Colorado Media Project

Journalism and Women Symposium


Samar Ali, Millions of Conversations

Rachel Brown, Over Zero

Kristen Clarke, Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights

Marielena Hincapie, National Immigration Law Center

Sherrilyn Ifill, NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund

Aarti Kohli, Asian Law Caucus

Dalia Mogahed, Institute for Social Policy and Understanding

Meira Neggaz, Institute for Social Policy and Understanding

Catherine Orsborn, Shoulder to Shoulder

Purvi Shah, Movement Law Lab

Shireen Zaman, Rise Together Fund (formerly Security and Rights Collaborative)


Shari Davis, Participatory Budgeting Project

Rachel Kleinfeld, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace

Melissa Rodgers, Immigrant Legal Resource Center

Prof. Susan Stokes Bright Lines Watch, University of Chicago


Not Just Another Election Year: Reflections on Defending Democracy in 2018

December 20, 2018

In July, I published an open letter to tell you about the numerous ways our organization stood up in this time of crisis. Since then, Democracy Fund and our grantees have continued to garner important successes in bolstering the guardrails of our democracy.

Nowhere was this more on display in 2018 than during the midterm election. Millions of Americans from across the political spectrum engaged in the electoral process as volunteers, candidates, and voters for the first time. Record-breaking turnout resulted in a Congress that is more reflective of America than ever before. This surge of enthusiasm for our democracy was inspiring and reenergized my dedication to Democracy Fund’s core mission.

Dozens of Democracy Fund grantees played important roles in supporting this groundswell. I am honored that we helped enable their success. I’d like to take this opportunity to share just a few of their stories.

Ensuring the integrity of our electoral process and systems

Razor-thin margins and recounts in numerous races this November brought significant public scrutiny to election officials and highlighted the importance of well-resourced election administration. This year alone, our grantees’ work resulted in the modernization of nine states’ voter registration systems and pressured at least five states to comply with the National Voter Registration Act.

On the important issue of election security, grantees such as the Defending Digital Democracy Project equipped hundreds of jurisdictions across the nation with best practices and resources to meaningfully respond to cyber threats. I’m particularly proud of the contribution of Democracy Fund Voice staff and grantees in ensuring the congressional appropriation of $380 million for election security that was awarded in grants to all 50 states and multiple territories.

Defending voter access

When voter access was put in jeopardy, our grantees fought to protect the rights of voters in some of the most-watched states in the midterm elections. Demos helped protect the language access rights of Spanish speakers in Florida. The Campaign Legal Center sued to defend the voting rights of Native Americans in North Dakota and played a key role in efforts to combat the controversial measures implemented in Georgia by then-Secretary of State Brian Kemp. Common Cause provided thousands of volunteers to support election protection and strategies to alert the public if voters had problems at the polls. The Texas Civil Rights Project won expanded early voting access for Texas State University students and kept nine polling locations in Harris County open for an extra hour after they opened late on election day.

Engaging and informing voters

Robust and fair elections systems are a crucial starting place for successful elections, but so too is an engaged and informed public. Millions of voters used tools built by Democracy Fund grantees to register to vote, identify their polling locations, and access other important information about the election. Democracy Works’ API powers the voter registration and voter outreach efforts of Facebook, Google, and Twitter, among others – over 3.5 million people received help registering to vote in 2018. Meanwhile, Democracy Fund partnered with Nonprofit Vote and dozens of others to implement the most successful National Voter Registration Day ever, with more than 800,000 Americans registering to vote on September 25th alone.

Throughout the election season, grantees in our Public Square portfolio played an important role in keeping the public informed about election systems, the candidates, and campaigns. Hundreds of local newsrooms supported by Democracy Fund helped prepare and educate voters for the decisions before them. Our North Carolina Local News Lab helped spark an exciting collaboration between Duke University, Politifact, the University of North Carolina, and McClatchy newspapers to publish over a dozen fact-checking articles on local and state races, including a series on the North Carolina constitutional amendments. The Center for Public Integrity undertook a fascinating effort to track the influence of money in races across the country. And ProPublica’s Electionland has quickly become one of the most important journalistic collaborations to track and report on election administration in the country. Their reporting on misinformation and political ads on social media platforms such as Facebook were particularly noteworthy.

In these ways—and so many more—Democracy Fund’s grantees and partners helped shape what may well be a watershed election in our history.

Preparing to govern

With the midterms behind us, Congress is set to receive a significant influx of new members. Many grantees in our Governance program are helping them get off on the right foot through orientations, trainings, and other resources. A record number of women and people of color will hold seats in the 116th Congress, and Democracy Fund has provided additional funding this year to the Women’s Congressional Policy Institute to help these members thrive. The Staff Up Congress initiative, meanwhile, is facilitating the recruitment and placement of members of underrepresented groups for senior congressional staff positions.

With such a large number of first-time legislators set to join the institution, it is all the more important that members of Congress have the resources necessary to manage effective legislative offices. That’s why I’m particularly pleased that so many of the priorities of Democracy Fund Voice and its grantees passed through the FY2019 Legislative Branch Appropriations Bill. This includes new resources for the Congressional Research Service and GAO, funding for cybersecurity and tech improvements, and the first significant new funding for member office capacity in Congress in a decade.

Holding government accountable

Our government accountability and investigative journalism grantees have consistently had a hand in some of the key political issues of the year, informing the public and applying pressure where ethical and legal breaches among government actors have been suspected.

  • Our grantees filed more than 3,000 FOIA requests and dozens of FOIA lawsuits, including Lawfare’s successful effort to secure the release of more than 100 FBI emails that contradicted the White House narrative that Director James Comey had lost Bureau support before his firing.
  • ProPublica’s heart-wrenching reporting on the family separation crisis played a key role in rallying public opposition to the administration’s policies. And the Project On Government Oversight and OpenTheGovernment uncovered documents showing that DHS officials signed off on policies that would lead to family separation and then told Congress there was no such policy.
  • Protect Democracy Project is looking ahead to a moment of democratic renewal, laying out an extensive list of reforms to strengthen Congress’ role as the first branch and to rein in executive branch abuses.

Meanwhile, when the Attorney General was forced to resign, we helped lead the philanthropic sector in defending the rule of law by rallying 45 signatories to our statement demanding that the Mueller investigation be allowed to reach its conclusion unimpeded.

Elsewhere in our portfolio, grantees have continued the slow and steady work of informing and engaging the public through trustworthy local journalism, building an effective and constructive Congress, and rebuilding a strong civic fabric by reaffirming our commitment to core American values.

Across the nation, I see dedicated Americans standing up for the type of democracy they want and working daily to build it. The determination our sector has shown has given me renewed faith in our democracy’s future and has increased my resolve to face the challenges ahead. In my open letter in July, I noted that our approach would be far more aggressive in combating the unprecedented threats that our democracy faces. In the new year, Democracy Fund looks forward to continuing to invest in efforts to create a more effective Congress, modern and secure elections, and a robust public square.


Local Officials Working to Make Your Vote Secure

November 6, 2018

As the nation gears up for what could be one of the most historic mid-term elections, it’s important to separate the misconceptions from realities when assessing the safety and security of our elections. A new cohort of nonprofits have emerged to focus on promoting election security and election access for the voting process. Election officials at the local and state level, as well as national officials, have worked incredibly hard since 2016 to identify and respond to foreign probing and cybersecurity breaches—and we believe that despite increased risks, our elections are safer than they have ever been.

The U.S. election system is not run by a single body or office—rather they are administered by approximately 10,000 local jurisdictions nationwide – which makes it difficult to coordinate an attack on the election process or rig the system. Even within the same state, different jurisdictions use different technologies to administer their ballots, making a successful attack even more difficult. There are problems that need ongoing attention; and it is certainly true that foreign interference is a real threat—but federal, state, and local authorities remain vigilant as they protect our democracy.

To secure an election, local election officials test machines in the lead up to the election to detect problems early and ensure things run smoothly on Election Day. In addition, all 50 states and 1,000 local election offices share information with U.S. Department of Homeland Security to prepare for potential cyber threats. Additionally, Congress has worked to provide state and local government with funds to aid them in securing this election.

To keep voting machines secure, they are held under lock and key with additional protections in place to ensure that nobody without proper credentials can access the devices undetected—typically with multiple layers of physical security such as fencing, key card access, locks, and seals, as well as observational video surveillance. Together, these serve as a check and balance to prevent tampering with the machines and to catch any errors in the count.

Similarly, it is very unlikely that anyone could ever change a vote tally. Ballots are cast at tens of thousands of polling places across the country. Changing an election result would require advance knowledge of likely results, numerous perpetrators working together to go completely undetected by communities, election officials, and law enforcement, including the FBI.

It’s also important to keep in mind that 80% of Americans vote on paper, and almost all states require a post-election review to validate the results. If a discrepancy exists, reviews and recounts are ordered, and the paper records are used for the official record. Even if an individual machine were compromised, the official result would be based on the paper record. And most states are considering a move to a post election audit that’s based on the difference between the the candidates, sometimes known as a “risk-limiting audit.” Furthermore, local election officials are the best resource in any election cycle. You can learn about how they secure the election systems, machines, and other equipment on their social media accounts. If there are problems getting attention from your poll worker or the head of your polling place, there is an effective national hotline, 1866-Our-Vote

Finally, instances of people voting multiple times or voting if ineligible are an incredibly rare occurrence, and this does not occur at a scale that has ever been shown to impact or change an election result. The registration rolls and voters reporting their identity both serve as a check, and the massive criminal penalties for voter fraud operate as a major deterrent. The likelihood that a scheme of voter impersonation would change a particular race is incredibly small.

While Congress needs to do more work to solve this problem-and fund a solution, they’ve started the process. Earlier this year, they appropriated $380 million dollars to the states, to be used to promote greater security of elections. All of the states and territories requested this money, received it, and many states are now using the money to improve security and voting systems. Overall, our elections are as secure as they’ve ever been—certainly compared to 2016. There are diligent public servants on hand to address security concerns that do arise in the 2018 midterms so that each state can understand the challenges and feel equipped to prepare for the 2020 presidential election. While I am optimistic, the need to better secure our elections and provide voters has never been greater, and Congress must provide a regular stream of funding to the states to deal with the rising threats—as the states and localities cannot match the magnitude of threats alone.

To find your polling place, learn about the candidates, or find other information about your local election from nonpartisan organizations like the Voting Information Project and—and find out more about your state’s recount process here. You can also talk with family and friends about the election. And to learn more about our work, check out the website, including new research on the public’s view of election administration and reform, found here, and state-level news about elections on


Key to Trusted Elections: Understanding the Voter Experience

October 18, 2018

Democracy Fund’s healthy democracy framework identifies voting as the cornerstone of our democracy. The elections process ought to be free, fair, accessible and secure; give voters the information that they need to make informed choices; and must “provide voters with confidence in the integrity of election outcomes and assurance that they have a voice in our democracy.”

We know that the public’s trust and confidence in elections provides the basis for a healthy election system and a healthy democracy. However, prior to heightened concerns around elections cybersecurity, we were surprised to find that there are not many people studying this dimension of public opinion. In the spirit of learning and dialogue, we decided to examine data collected from 2008-2016 via the Cooperative Congressional Election Study to better understand the public’s views on our elections process.

In collaboration with Paul Gronke of Reed College, I am excited to share our findings in a new Democracy Fund report, “Understanding the Voter Experience: The Public’s View of Election Administration and Reform.” This report offers insight into the individual-level decision to vote or not, the public’s’ knowledge and application of voter registration requirements, the over all voter experience, and the public’s trust and confidence in U.S. elections.

The Good News

In Understanding the Voter Experience, we find that the public generally perceives that elections are run with integrity, understands most of what is required of them in order to vote, and have a good experience when voting. When compared to other institutions of in trust, election administration ranks well.

Other encouraging findings include that many people realize that they are responsible for registering and updating their registration; most respondents provide good or excellent job performance ratings for their poll workers and their state and local election officials; and majorities of the folks we surveyed are confident that their own votes and votes across the country are counted as intended.

Areas for Improvement

Our report also shows that the public can benefit from ongoing educational efforts—especially in states that have recently implemented modernization reforms or that have recently changed identification requirements. Significant numbers of our respondents were confused or unfamiliar with their state voter identification requirements pre-election, and our data indicate that they learn about these requirements post-election.

We also found a significant number of people did not know whether online voter registration is available in their state. In fact, nearly 50 percent of the respondents did not know whether their respective states offered online voter registration, and over 17 percent answered incorrectly as to whether their state offered it.

Our report also examines the public’s heavily reliance on the internet for basic election information, which is important because we find that a lack of information may keep people from voting, especially down-ballot races. The data shows that approximately 30-40 percent of respondents consistently felt they did not have enough information to vote on key races like state attorney general, secretary of state, and state senator races.

We hope that “Understanding the Voter Experience” will help election officials, lawmakers, advocates, and others better understand attitudes of the American people toward one of their most-cherished rights, and will encourage more probing of public attitudes about our election system. As you read the report, we welcome your questions and feedback. Please do not hesitate to email me at