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With insurrection at the door, one woman’s thoughts turned to the mahogany and leather boxes in the Senate chamber. The three boxes contained the votes — the very documents that had drawn a mob into the nation’s Capitol during a violent assault on democracy Wednesday afternoon. 

The woman, a Senate aide who The 19th is not naming for safety reasons, was the one who directed staffers to gather the 18-inch by 10-inch boxes and transport the votes to a secure location while President Donald Trump supporters incited a riot within the building, sending senators, representatives, aides, interns and reporters to seek shelter while offices were ransacked. 

Earlier in the day, the president had encouraged his supporters to march on the Capitol in protest of the certification of the election taking place. 

The certified electoral votes symbolized an election many of them felt they were robbed of. That’s why the aide’s quick thinking has been hailed as heroic by many — though few knew who was the person behind the move to protect the certified electoral votes. 

“One of the staff members was very quick thinking and was able to grab and secure the electoral college ballots and take them with her to this location, so we have them with us and we will be able to proceed as long as Mitch McConnell calls us back into session,” Sen. Tammy Duckworth told CBS Evening News Wednesday afternoon. 

In the aftermath of the riot, images of staffers carrying the boxes to the joint session of Congress went viral on social media, with many praising the women. But the photos did not depict the moment the boxes were saved — they were from earlier in the day.

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Oregon Democratic Sen. Jeff Merkley’s office confirmed that the person who coordinated the safe removal of the votes was a different aide. 

Merkley, who rejoined his colleagues to finalize the certification of the election once the rioters left the building Wednesday evening, gave a speech on the Senate floor praising her efforts. 

“Their cargo is precious,” Merkley said Wednesday night. “These boxes contain the voice of the American people weighing in, as they have election after election.”

The boxes don’t hold the only certified electoral votes — other copies are held by state governors, the National Archives and the Federal Registrar, which has digital copies — but they are the physical copies of the certificates that could allow for the process to continue on time and as planned.

Merkley said the aide organized a team to rescue the boxes and keep them safe when an announcement was issued to move staff from the Senate chamber and into a safe room. 

“Thank you to her and the entire team that rescued the voice of the American people,” Merkley said. “Had they not done so, then the hooligans outside, disrespecting the Constitution, would have come in here and opened these boxes and burned the ballots, destroying the voice of the people symbolically.”