Michigan Elections Officials Leaving Jobs in High Numbers Amid Threats, Harassment

Ingham County Clerk Barb Byrum says she’s worried the next generation of clerks might be the same conspiracy theorists who bullied good ones out.

Local clerks and other elections workers in Michigan are leaving their jobs in large numbers since the 2020 Election.

As part of the weekly series MichMash, hosts Jake Neher and Cheyna Roth spoke with Ingham County Clerk Barb Byrum about why that is, and what she thinks it means for future elections.

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A recent report by the Associated Press says there is an exodus of elections officials in many states, including in Michigan. This is a response to the recent uptick in harassment and demonizing of clerks and election workers since the November 2020 election. Baseless conspiracies spurred by former President Donald Trump and his supporters have resulted in death threats, obscene and threatening emails and voice messages, and other awful treatment of clerks and others trying to do their jobs.

Now, many are saying enough is enough.

“They’ve had it, they’ve just had it,” says Ingham County Clerk Barb Byrum. “When our clerks are under fire, that means our democracy is under fire.”

According to a recent Brennan Center report, one in three election officials in the United States feel unsafe on the job, and one in six have been threatened because of their work.

“And some clerks are just saying, ‘You know what? My safety, my sanity, my personal happiness is worth more than a job,’” says Byrum. “And some clerks have chosen to retire, not run for office or just leave and go to a different area of work.”

“When our clerks are under fire, that means our democracy is under fire.” — Ingham County Clerk Barb Byrum

This could have huge implications for our elections going forward, she says. She’s concerned that eventually people who don’t buy into conspiracy theories and who try to do the job properly won’t be there any longer and the only people to fill those spots will be people who bullied them out in the first place.

“It’s going to have the effect of having the inmates run the asylum,” she says.

Byrum says she’s heard some of the threats lobbed at her fellow clerks and she’s worried. And while she herself has received concerning messages, she said she’s more worried about other clerks.

“If ever I need to alert authorities, I certainly will. But I’m more worried about other clerks that have received really concerning threats and threats even on their family,” Byrum says. “That’s just unacceptable. And you know, we need to hold people accountable for their misbehavior. And if they are going to target election administrators, they need to be held to the fullest extent of the law.”

More from MichMash:

Officials Look for Ways to Fix Michigan’s Juvenile Justice System

Despite Bipartisan Support, Michigan Lawmakers Balk at Funding Criminal Justice Initiatives

Redistricting Commission Needs Michigan Residents’ Help To Define “Community of Interest”

Future of Line 5 Uncertain After Enbridge Ignores Whitmer’s Order to Shut Down

Michigan’s Top Environmental Regulator Defends New PFAS Standards, Line 5 Permits

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  • Cheyna Roth
    Cheyna has interned with Michigan Radio and freelanced for WKAR public radio in Lansing. She's also done some online freelancing and worked on documentary films.
  • Jake Neher
    Jake Neher is senior producer for Detroit Today and host of MichMash for 101.9 WDET. He previously reported on the Michigan Legislature for the Michigan Public Radio Network.