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Amber McReynolds, like many people this week, has watched the news as votes are counted in the presidential election. She wasn’t surprised to see that often, it was a woman informing the public about what comes next.
“Being able to be calm, be confident in what the law says, and what the procedures are and explain it in a productive way? I think that’s always something that women are really good at,” said McReynolds, the CEO of the National Vote at Home Institute, which works to expand vote-by-mail systems across the country.
It’s often women secretaries of state in key battleground states who have been providing up-to-date information to the public, while also challenging evolving disinformation 一 including from President Donald Trump 一 about the counting process.
“They’re doing a fantastic job not shrinking back from the times we’re in,” said Jena Griswold, the Democratic Colorado secretary of state. “And being really steadfast in laying out, ‘This is the process. This is why the process works as it is, and we’re going to count every single vote.'”
Women are also working behind the scenes to make sure that the counting process (ballots take weeks to be certified, a reality of every election cycle) runs smoothly. Survey data shows the typical local election administrator around the country is a woman. Women also have a history of serving as poll workers, and the pandemic this year has spurred younger women to step up.
There is limited data about the full scope of women’s role in the country’s democratic infrastructure. But Tammy Patrick, a senior advisor at the nonpartisan voter advocacy group Democracy Fund, said it’s “pretty evident” that women are critical in ensuring that America’s elections system is conducted safely, securely and in an accessible manner.
“I would say in this moment when we’re seeing some of these images of the votes being processed, to just make note of how many of those people are women? How many of them are people of color?” she said. “If we draw people’s attention to that, I think that they will probably be a little surprised. But that is something that’s undeniable.”
As ballot counting stretches beyond Election Day — which voting experts and officials warned would happen amid a huge jump in mail-in ballots — women secretaries of state from places like Arizona, Michigan and Pennsylvania took to television and social media to remind the electorate that nothing was amiss. So did Wisconsin’s woman state elections commission administrator, which is considered the chief elections position in the state.
The Trump campaign filed a lawsuit after Election Day over ballots in Michigan that a judge quickly dismissed. Trump has filed similar lawsuits in other battleground states. Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, a Democrat, told NBC News on Wednesday that there is no merit to litigation from Trump over the state’s election process.
“The bottom line is no candidate, no campaign, no political party, is going to stop us from counting every vote in Michigan and ensuring every voice is heard,” she said.
In Pennsylvania, another state where a lawsuit has been filed, Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar had a similar response.
“What we care about here is making sure that every qualified voter, that their vote counts, that their voices get heard, and we want to make sure no voter is disenfranchised when they are qualified voters,” the Democrat told ABC News on Wednesday. “So we’re going to count every vote, and hey, that’s what makes our democracy great.”
Jean Sinzdak is associate director of the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University. She said there is a “hyper-masculine” dynamic to Trump threatening litigation and claiming wrongdoing in the election process (there is no proof of widespread voter fraud) while secretaries of state focus on presenting the facts.
“That’s one piece of the gender lens in all of this,” she said. “As opposed to, ‘Let’s wait patiently and calmly, so every vote is counted’ … this other response is just again, that very sort of hyper-masculine aggressive response.”
Women are leading elections in other key states: In Nevada, Republican Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske is tracking as ballots continue to be counted. Georgia’s deputy secretary of state, Jordan Fuchs, has helped oversee ballot counting in that state. Incoming results show a tight race there between President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden.
In Arizona, where votes were being counted for several days after Election Day, tensions have flared up to the point that protesters, some armed, have gathered outside a counting center in Maricopa County, where Phoenix is located.
Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, a Democrat, said on television on Thursday that she and other elections officials are focused on their work and not the protests.
“Obviously we’re going to keep counting ballots; that’s what we are required to do by law,” she said.
Protests over vote counting are playing out elsewhere, including in Philadelphia and Detroit. In those spaces, election workers may face intimidation by protesters.
Patrick, a former election official in Maricopa County, said she and other election officials in the state faced contentious protests during the 2012 cycle. But the presence of guns, coupled with a more polarized election, is concerning for safety reasons.
“There’s a whole new edge because of the things that our country has seemed to say are acceptable,” she said. “And that’s where I think we get into some very, very murky water.”
In the months leading up to Election Day, many states scrambled to expand absentee and vote-by-mail systems in response to the pandemic. But as voters casted ballots early in record numbers, election officials expressed confidence in their ability to run their Election Day operations. And while there were some reports of issues around the country, they do not appear to be widespread (federal officials are investigating reports of disinformation through robocalls).
Still, Rebecca Green said it’s a “total miracle” that Election Day ran smoothly. She is a law professor at William & Mary Law School and co-director of the Election Law Program, which seeks to provide assistance to judges called upon to resolve election law disputes.
Workers appeared to have prepared to handle high voter turnout while dealing with the technical logistics of collecting ballots, Green said.
“We were bracing for so much worse and I think it’s a real testament to all the election officials out there who prepared for the worst and put their head down and did the work under really trying circumstances,” she said. “It’s pretty impressive.”
And much of that is because of women.