There isn’t an exact moment that made Leslie Hoffman decide to leave her job as an election administrator in Arizona.
But over the past two years, she’s had to take stock of new realities in her job as the county recorder in Yavapai County, north of Phoenix: She’s received threatening phone calls and hateful online messages. She’s had to read countless conspiratorial emails about election security. She’s been heckled at public meetings.
This month, Hoffman, a Republican, announced her resignation from the job she loved and was first elected to do more than a decade ago. She had hoped to retire while working as county recorder, helping people register to vote and turn in their ballots. She got to be an educator, she explained.
But debunked lies about the 2020 presidential election have persisted as former President Donald Trump continues to share conspiracy theories about his loss to President Joe Biden. Trump has indicated that he plans to run for president again in 2024.
The impact of lies about America’s most secure election is still taking shape around the country but has included harassment and threats of violence aimed at a women-led workforce. A survey of election workers conducted by the Brennan Center for Justice earlier this year showed 30 percent of poll respondents said they knew of one or more election workers who had left their jobs at least in part because of fear for their safety, increased threats or intimidation. Twenty percent said they planned to leave before the 2024 election.
Hoffman’s exit, which comes just weeks before Arizona’s August 2 primary, is not an anomaly. The county elections director left the job earlier this month. The elections manager announced their departure a few weeks before that.
Hoffman, whose last day of work is Friday, has another job lined up but she declined to go into details. She said it will not be in elections administration. She spoke with The 19th about her work and why she plans to be at her desk until the very last hour on her last day.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Barbara Rodriguez: You’ve had this job for more than a decade. When did the threats and harassment begin?
Leslie Hoffman: Right after the 2020 general election. It was the end of November, first of December. I received a call one night from two different friends who are active on Facebook — I’m not — and they wanted to make sure that I had protection and offered to come and stay the night with me because of what was happening on Facebook. Things were being said about me and they were vile enough that they were very concerned about my safety. So the next day I mentioned it to my chief deputy and she insisted that I call the sheriff and let them know. So I did and since that time, the sheriff has patrolled my house.
I have since received letters and emails and calls with very nasty comments. it’s, ‘We’re watching you. You better watch your back. We have you now. You need to lawyer up. You’re as corrupt as the governor you work for.’ Which is very sad considering this is a very Republican county. I’m a Republican recorder and Trump won 2-to-1 here.
You can’t be weak when you’re in this business. You have to be very tough and willing to speak out. But there also comes a point where you don’t feel like what you’re saying is doing any good. And when you’re being personally attacked, the character assassinations are terrible. A lot of our constituents out there have lost their humanity and civility.
It’s been nearly two years since the 2020 election. What has your reality been like since then?
The reality is that there are a lot of people who don’t want to know the truth. They’ve continued for almost two years — with the emails, going to public meetings and heckling from the audience. So it has just been an accumulation over almost two years that has led to the decision. And then in the interim, very recently, I was offered an extremely good job, unsolicited. I wasn’t looking for anything. I love what I do. I love my job. But when something came up that was a tremendous offer, I took that as a sign.
There wasn’t any one moment that I felt I saw it starting after 2020. But there is a momentum that I’ve seen grow. The momentum of it’s OK to lash out, and more and more people seem to be joining that dialogue about the elections. And it’s gotten more and more — I don’t see that turning around anytime in the future.
You noted the county overwhelmingly voted for Trump. What effect has that had on the types of threats and harassment that you have experienced?
I ask them the same things: Why? What went wrong in their eyes? Because we are a model county for the state since before my time. I can’t even take all the credit for that. We’ve always done great elections. We’ve always been the trailblazers on the forefront of new and better policies and procedures. And so what is it that they don’t like? And when I have been able to ask that question, the answer was, “Well, we know it’s happening in other counties and other states, so it must be happening here.” But there’s no basis for that.
Have you had to take extra precautions in order to do your job?
When I go out to speak, our sheriff goes to a lot of stuff. So I like to go to things where he’s speaking. When I go to organizational meetings, I generally ask to be seated closer to him or to one of our constables. I’m just more vigilant … I know I have limited a lot of my social events, because I just feel safer staying home.
Could anything or anyone — policymakers, the general public — have alleviated the stress that you have been experiencing? Are there lessons here that you want to share?
People need to speak up and support people who are doing good jobs. If you don’t, then the only voices that’s heard are the smaller [minority], but they’re very loud. I’ve had those people come to board meetings and protest against equipment and programs. Everything that we have put on our board agenda — that are public meetings — they have come to protest, but no one wants to come and speak in support. I get emails afterward that say, ‘Gosh we saw that, we’re so sorry. We don’t feel like that.’ So I want to tell people, it’s OK to speak up and speak out about what’s right. We need to retain our historical knowledge that we have in this industry. That’s across the country. That’s not just me. I have friends across the whole country who feel the same way.
Speak out in public if you hear anything. Come to meetings once in a while. Put articles in the paper. Study the people who are running for office to make sure that they’re not perpetuating bad actions and tearing down confidence. You want people in office who are going to work with the counties and the cities and the towns. Some states are top down. We are bottom up. So we run the elections from the county level. So support your cities and towns and the people who you’re electing into those positions. And make sure that they have some experience and they are more of a common sense person.
There’s a primary coming up in the county in the state. What happens next?
We have a well-oiled machine here, and I have all the faith in the world that me leaving really is not going to change that at all. We have got great people. They’re working almost around the clock, as we always do. It’s something you do before the elections. And so far everything is going great. We don’t start working on the election a month or two before. We’re working on it a year before, implementing practices and lining up all the policies and lining up our vendors and securing everything.
How are you feeling right now as you prepare to finish this work?
I’m very sad. I love what I do. After 10 and a half years you become very close with your staff. So it makes me sad. And I’m disillusioned with a lot of our public and what they’re doing, because they’re not supporting the people who are doing the job. And you’re not going to increase security and increase confidence and change anybody’s feelings about elections if you don’t support the good people doing the job. We’re just the ones down in the trenches doing the work.
I asked one of the organizers of one of the groups, why are you going after us? We have no discretion in our jobs. We follow the laws and follow what our citizens ask us to do within the realm of the law. And he said, ‘“Because you’re the easy mark.” So I’m really disillusioned that people who deserve support don’t have it.
Your last day is Friday. What are you doing between now and then?
I’m here at my office. I’m still working and I’ll do everything I can. I was working just now on some drop box procedures. I’ll work right up till five o’clock on the 22nd.
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