Photo by Emerson Brady.

The Election Will Be Livestreamed

Lane County Election Workers are ready for the May 21 election with more transparency controls and self-defense classes than ever before

On Tuesday, April 16, two Lane County Elections workers were on their sixth hour of filling out test ballots in the Lane County Elections Office. According to Lane County Clark Dena Dawson, 2,000 ballots need to be marked in a specific pattern in order to test the voting system. 

The workers, Rusty and Elaine, have gone through an eighth of the test ballots so far. 

“It’s tedious work,” Dawson says. “I’m surprised their wrists still work at this point, but we do it to test the voting systems. Most people don’t know that we do these things.”

Since Dawson became the Lane County Clerk in 2022, transparency in elections and election worker safety have been her top priorities. As county clerk, Dawson is in charge of overseeing records like marriage licenses and deeds, as well as campaign finance information, but her favorite part of the job is administering elections. 

On May 21, Dawson, Rusty and Elaine, along with many other election workers, will be working overtime collecting and processing ballots for the primary election. It will be the second busiest day of the year for them, the first being the upcoming November election. Rusty and Elaine asked to use only their first names out of fear of retaliation for being election workers in the current climate where election workers in other states have been attacked for doing their jobs.

According to the Brennan Center for Justice, a nonpartisan law and policy institute that has been tracking election worker harassment in recent years, nearly three out of four election workers say threats against them have increased, and 30 percent say they have personally been abused, harassed or threatened because of their job.

Oregon state Treasurer Tobias Read who is running for Oregon Secretary of State, says that of the 25 county clerks he’s spoken to in Oregon this year, all expressed new challenges to their job due to distrust in the electoral system. 

“One story I heard was an election worker who said that on election night they don’t pick up the ballots. They just go and lock the drop box and pick up ballots in the morning when it’s light and safer,” Read says. “That is alarming to me.”

Unlike the 2020 election, the Lane County election process is being livestreamed 24 hours a day, seven days a week on the county elections website starting the moment ballots are mailed out and ending the day after the election. 

“If you were watching the livestream today you probably saw Rusty and Elaine babbling, and it’s boring, but what we’re trying to do is normalize the process,” Dawson says. “We do this so when people get upset and call the election fraudulent, we want them to know us. Like, do you think we’re the ones doing this fraud?”

In addition to livestreaming the entire election process, election workers also post the tentative schedule for what election workers will be doing every day leading up to the election and in the weeks after on the Lane County Elections website. You can also find a detailed description there of the entire process that a ballot goes through from before it’s mailed out to after the election.

“The best thing we can do is educate people,” Dawson says. 

She emphasized that there are also several controls in place to ensure the security of an election. These controls include: securing ballot processing rooms with key cards that require two election workers to open; ensuring that every ballot processing team is bipartisan by identifying their political parties with different colored lanyards, and using an automatic signature verification software to verify signatures as well as having an election worker review any signature that shows signs of discrepancies.

“If people came in and saw what happens, I know they would just go, ‘Oh, that’s not what I thought,’” Elaine says. “It’s totally different than all the stuff they’ve been hearing.”

In Dawson’s first election as Lane County clerk in 2022, she put up glass partitions at the front desk as a barrier between the public and election workers and added bollards in front of the building in case someone tried to drive through it. She has required full-time election workers to take an eight-hour Crisis Prevention Institute (CPI) Physical de-escalation training course and implemented a protocol for how to open suspicious mail. 

Election workers who interact with the public also take some variation of the federal Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Security Agency’s Non-Confrontational Techniques for Election Workers Training provided by the CISA.The Department of Homeland Security now periodically checks the elections office to assess for any potential dangers and give suggestions like trimming the bushes outside so nobody can hide in them.

She says, “We take the physical security of our team and the cybersecurity of our equipment very seriously because we have to.”

Dawson has been working in elections since 2007, when her friend was elected to be a county clerk in Colorado. She volunteered to help with an election and “got hooked.” She has been an election administrator in two different counties in Colorado, Pagosa Springs and Brighton, was an assistant county clerk in Douglas County, Nevada, an elections project manager in Multnomah County and the executive director of elections in Denver. 

“I’ve been doing this professionally since 2007 and never had threats,” Dawson says. “I never had people drive my house; I never had my name on a list of traitors; I never received suspicious substances in the mail –– until 2016.”

Rusty and Elaine, who primarily work in the back of the office, have little to no engagement with the public, and feel fortunate that they haven’t experienced threats on that level. Dawson, however, as the face of Lane County elections, has dealt with her fair share of threats since 2016, including hateful letters and people stalking her house.

“I have this jacket that says ‘Election Nerd’ on it, but after 2020 I stopped feeling comfortable wearing them in public,” Dawson says. “And when I meet people and they ask me what I do, I stopped saying, ‘I count your vote,’ and started saying, ‘I work for the county.’”

Despite the volume of threats increasing since 2016, Dawson says she remains hopeful that the transparency protocols in place will help foster better trust with the public.

“At the end of the day we’re just regular people doing our jobs,” she says. “And even though we use machines, it’s people that do the work and we have controls in place to make sure that those people aren’t up to anything nefarious.”

For information on Lane County elections as well as how to access the election livestream go to