By the midterms of 2020, voters appear to have reaffirmed their confidence in American democracy and the integrity of our elections. In battleground states (Pennsylvania, Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin, New Hampshire, Georgia, Nevada, and Arizona), nearly all standoffs have been defeated in races for the US Senate, governor, and secretary of state.
Despite endless allegations that midterm elections were rigged, there was no credible evidence of fraud or corruption.
Election officials across the country deserve recognition for the invaluable — and often invisible — role they play in ensuring that every legitimate vote is processed, counted, and recounted when necessary.
Bill Gates, Chairman of the Board of Directors for Maricopa County, Arizona, is an example of the fine work these officers did despite threats of violence against them.
A lifelong Republican, Gates founded the Teenage Republican Club in his high school and was an officer in the Federation of College Republicans as an undergraduate at Drake University. A Harvard Law School graduate who has practiced law for 25 years, Gates has served as secretary of the Maricopa County Republican Committee, director of efforts to ensure GOP election integrity, and a member of the Phoenix City Council from 2009 to 2016 — including a stint as Deputy Mayor – and at many non-profit organizations. In 2016, Gates was elected to the board of directors of Maricopa County, the fourth-largest county in the United States with a population of 4.5 million. He has been chairman since 2019. Gates is married and has three daughters.
After the board of directors (consisting of four Republicans and one Democrat) voted unanimously to certify Joe Biden’s victory in Maricopa County’s 2020 presidential election, election officials faced threats of violence.
“It’s just awful,” Gates said.
Noting “terrible” comments in response to his posting a Christmas card on his social media, Gates added, “Nothing is taboo… Do we really expect board members to face death threats? It’s not really what you sign up for.”
Hours before a mob attacked the US Capitol in Washington, DC on Jan. 6, 2021, one blogger recommended an “old-fashioned tie party” to punish Arizona’s “traitorous” election officials; Another encouraged MAGA vigilantes to gather in front of wardens’ homes and gave their addresses. Gates evacuated his family to an Airbnb. When the Republican majority in the Arizona Senate (by one vote) refused to despise the board of directors, vote-waivers set up guillotines on the state capital’s lawn intended for them. In August 2021, despite multiple audits, including one by the bipartisan cyber ninjas, all of which found no evidence of widespread fraud, Gates said employees and supervisors at his office continued to receive calls “saying that our families.” be slaughtered.”
It was déjà vu again for the midterms.
As Maricopa officials processed and tallied votes (including nearly 300,000 votes deposited in mailboxes on Election Day, up 100,000 from 2020), Blake Masters, the Republican nominee for the US Senate, lamented that they had been treated incompetently. Kari Lake, the Republican nominee for governor, devastated poll workers for allegedly being slow to release results, acting “like we’re in a banana republic,” and “making it their mission to defeat America First Republicans.” Donald Trump claimed widespread “election fraud” and demanded, “Rerun the election.” Masters, Lake and Trump provided no evidence to support their claims.
“This isn’t about partisan politics,” Gates insisted. “It’s not about conservative versus liberal. This is about truth versus lies.”
Police were tasked to patrol the Maricopa voting center, station SUVs near a chain link fence along the road, fly surveillance helicopters overhead, and maintain a security fence around the compound. The “nearly militarized zone,” according to Maricopa Sheriff Paul Penzone, was necessary to “protect ballots and people and the opportunity to vote in a free and considerate nation.”
“What really energizes me,” Gates still says, “is all the workers here, the 3,000 workers out here trying to do the right thing. You have decided to work in the election administration. It’s so noble and so attacked.”
The citizens of Maricopa County, and virtually all Americans (Republicans, Democrats, and Independents) are the beneficiaries of his dedication, skill, and courage—as well as those of his peers and every other guardian of free and fair elections who seeks to do what is right.
This week let’s give thanks to the poll workers who are making sacrifices for American democracy more than ever.
Glenn C. Altschuler is the Thomas and Dorothy Litwin Professor of American Studies at Cornell University. He is co-author (with Stuart Blumin) of “Rude Republic: Americans and their Politics in the Nineteenth Century.”