Election staff abruptly quits, upending rural Texas county

Aug 21, 2022, 9:34 PM | Updated: Aug 22, 2022, 9:42 am
A voter registration table is seen at a political event for Texas gubernatorial candidate Beto O'Ro...

A voter registration table is seen at a political event for Texas gubernatorial candidate Beto O'Rourke, Wednesday, Aug. 17, 2022, in Fredericksburg, Texas. On the brink of November's midterm elections, both full-time election workers in rural Gillespie County suddenly and stunningly quit this month with less than 70 days before voters start casting ballots. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

(AP Photo/Eric Gay)

FREDERICKSBURG , Texas (AP) — Part of why Terry Hamilton says he abruptly left his job running elections deep in Texas wine country is by now a familiar story in America: He became fed up with the harassment that followed the 2020 election.

But this was no ordinary exit.

On the brink of November’s midterm elections, it was not just Hamilton who up and quit this month but also the only other full-time election worker in rural Gillespie County. The sudden emptying of an entire local elections department came less than 70 days before voters start casting ballots.

By the middle of last week, no one was left at the darkened and locked elections office in a metal building annex off the main road in Fredericksburg. A “Your Vote Counts” poster hung in a window by the door.

A scramble is now underway to train replacements and ground them in layers of new Texas voting laws that are among the strictest in the U.S. That includes assistance from the Texas Secretary of State, whose spokesperson could not recall a similar instance in which an elections office was racing to start over with a completely new staff. But the headaches don’t stop there.

The resignations have more broadly made the county of roughly 27,000 residents — which overwhelmingly backed former President Donald Trump in 2020 — an extraordinary example of the fallout resulting from threats to election officials. Officials and voting experts worry that a new wave of harassment or worse will return in November, fueled by false claims of widespread fraud.

Hamilton, who has clashed with poll watchers in Gillespie County in past elections, said he didn’t want to go through it again.

“That’s the one thing we can’t understand. Their candidate won, heavily,” Hamilton said. “But there’s fraud here?”

He declined to discuss the nature of the threats in a phone interview, referring questions to the county attorney, who did not respond to a phone message. Gillespie County Sheriff Buddy Mills said neither his department nor police in Fredericksburg had received information about threats from elections officials.

Hamilton worked under Anissa Herrera, the former county elections administrator whose resignation was first reported by the Fredericksburg Standard Radio Post. “I was threatened, I’ve been stalked, I’ve been called out on social media,” she told the outlet. “And it’s just dangerous misinformation.”

The departures pile on the examples across the U.S. of how death threats, harassment and unfounded accusations have driven local election officials from their jobs. Citing the potential effect on democracy, the U.S. Department of Justice launched a task force last year to address rising threats against election officials.

They are familiar to many election workers in Texas, which has been at the vanguard of a Republican campaign nationwide to tighten election laws in response to Trump’s baseless claims that the 2020 election was rigged. Supporters are easy to find in Gillespie County, a popular getaway to booming vineyards and vacation rentals in the scenic Texas Hill Country, which is a short day trip from the state’s liberal capital in Austin but separated by a gulf politically. In 2020, Trump won the county with nearly 80% of the vote.

But the resignations surprised Mo Saiidi, chairman of the Gillespie County GOP, who said recent elections had run smoothly. Hamilton said run-ins with poll watchers traced back to 2020 but said other issues weighed on the office, including what he contended was was a lack of support from the county. He also recently decided to run as a write-in candidate for county treasurer, which he said required him to step down.

Saiidi believes funding played a role. “They had some differences and they couldn’t come to a closure, and they decided in frustration to just quit,” said Saiidi, who also serves on the county’s election commission.

A survey released in March by the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law found that one in three election officials knows someone who has left a job in part because of threats and intimidation, and that one in six had experienced threats personally.

In Texas alone, at least 37 election administrators since the 2020 election have left what were previously stable positions, said Trudy Hancock, president of the Texas Association of Elections Administrators, citing a presentation she had seen. There are 254 counties in Texas, not all of which have dedicated election administration offices.

Threats are not all that’s making the job tougher in Texas. A sweeping new voting law gives wide latitude to partisan poll watchers and threatens election workers with criminal charges for denying them access. The same law put new restrictions on mail voting but made a messy debut during Texas’ first-in-the-nation primary in March, when more 23,000 mail ballots were discarded outright as voters struggled to navigate the new rules.

It underscores the challenges a new staff will face getting up to speed under a time crunch. For now, Saiidi said the county clerk and tax assessor have been discussed as possible fills-in.

Hancock, who is also the elections administrator in Brazos County, said her workers could previously take angry calls as voters blowing off steam. “But in this climate and the things that go on now, we have to take everything serious and at face value,” she said.

Less than 24 hours after the office in Gillespie County officially cleared out, the resignations were front of mind at a pavilion in Fredericksburg, where Democrat Beto O’Rourke had swung through in his campaign to unseat Republican Gov. Greg Abbott.

Roger Norman, 60, felt the election was still in good hands but called threats a pattern of intimidation. Outside, at a counter rally of Trump supporters, welder Abel Salazar said he had no concerns with elections in the heavily conservative county and that interest in poll watching was high.

“There are a lot of people that have been volunteering,” Salazar, 53, said.

Hamilton said deadlines in his old office are already creeping up.

“They didn’t think we did anything,” he said. “Now they get to see what we did.”

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


The Amazon logo is pictured on Sept. 6, 2012, in Santa Monica, Calif. Amazon filed a lawsuit on Mon...
Haleluya Hadero, Associated Press

Amazon sues Washington’s labor agency over alleged hazards

Amazon has sued Washington state’s labor agency following disputes with regulators over citations and fines imposed on the company for worker safety issues.
12 hours ago
Associated Press

Guilty! Law school sends out erroneous admissions emails

BOSTON (AP) — A Massachusetts law school says it’s guilty of accidentally sending acceptance emails to thousands of former and current applicants. The Northeastern University School of Law in a statement Wednesday blamed a “technical error” for the glitch, saying the erroneous emails went to more than 200 people who applied for admission starting next […]
2 days ago
Associated Press

23 hostages from Nigeria passenger train reported freed

ABUJA, Nigeria (AP) — More than 20 people who were abducted from a passenger train in Nigeria have regained their freedom after more than six months, Nigerian authorities said Wednesday. A government committee assembled by Nigeria’s chief of defense staff “secured the release and took custody of all the 23 remaining passengers held hostage,” the […]
2 days ago
FILE - Janet Pierson attends the Sundance IFC breakfast in Park City, Utah on Jan. 19, 2009. SXSW a...
Associated Press

SXSW’s Pierson steps down after 15 years leading film fest

NEW YORK (AP) — After 15 years running SXSW’s film festival, director Janet Pierson is stepping down. Her longtime deputy, Claudette Godfrey, will take over leading the annual Austin, Texas, gathering, one of America’s premier film festivals. SXSW announced the change Wednesday, saying that Pierson, a longtime champion of independent film, will shift to a […]
2 days ago
Missouri Gov. Mike Parson speaks from a lectern before signing legislation cutting the state’s in...
Associated Press

EXPLAINER: Tax cut trend reaches two-thirds of states

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — States brimming with cash are cutting taxes at a rapid pace. With the enactment Wednesday of an income tax cut in Missouri, about two-thirds of U.S. states have adopted some sort of tax relief in 2022. For taxpayers, the trend means billions of dollars back in their pockets. Some already […]
2 days ago
FILE - This combo of photos provided by the Hennepin County Sheriff's Office in Minnesota, show Tou...
Associated Press

State, cops seek to bar evidence in trial over Floyd killing

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Prosecutors and defense attorneys for two former Minneapolis police officers charged in the killing of George Floyd have filed more than 100 motions to limit testimony or evidence at trial — with many requests relying heavily on what happened at the previous two trials in Floyd’s death. J. Alexander Kueng and Tou […]
2 days ago

Sponsored Articles

Anacortes Christmas Tree...

Come one, come all! Food, Drink, and Coastal Christmas – Anacortes has it all!

Come celebrate Anacortes’ 11th annual Bier on the Pier! Bier on the Pier takes place on October 7th and 8th and features local ciders, food trucks and live music - not to mention the beautiful views of the Guemes Channel and backdrop of downtown Anacortes.
Swedish Cyberknife Treatment...

The revolutionary treatment of Swedish CyberKnife provides better quality of life for majority of patients

There are a wide variety of treatments options available for men with prostate cancer. One of the most technologically advanced treatment options in the Pacific Northwest is Stereotactic Body Radiation Therapy using the CyberKnife platform at Swedish Medical Center.
Work at Zum Services...

Seattle Public Schools announces three-year contract with Zum

Seattle Public Schools just announced a three-year contract with a brand-new company to the Pacific Northwest to assist with their student transportation: Zum.
Swedish Cyberknife 900x506...

June is Men’s Health Month: Here’s Why It’s Important To Speak About Your Health

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, men in the United States, on average, die five years earlier than women.

Anacortes – A Must Visit Summertime Destination

While Anacortes is certainly on the way to the San Juan Islands (SJI), it is not just a destination to get to the ferry… Anacortes is a destination in and of itself!

Ready for your 2022 Alaskan Adventure with Celebrity Cruises?

Celebrity Cruises SPONSORED — A round-trip Alaska cruise from Seattle is an amazing treat for you and a loved one. Not only are you able to see and explore some of the most incredible and visually appealing natural sights on the planet, but you’re also able to relax and re-energize while aboard a luxury cruise […]
Election staff abruptly quits, upending rural Texas county