Fire and brimstone coming down from the skies. Rivers and seas boiling. Forty years of darkness, earthquakes, volcanoes. The dead rising from the grave. Human sacrifice. Dogs and cats living together. Mass hysteria.
This is not only what you get when you cut off electricity to the Ghostbusters, but when America tries to have an election. So it seems, anyway.
Except not in Clay County, Missouri.
Heather Hall, the newest Republican election director in the county, paints a picture of extraordinary bipartisan cooperation and even warmth there – saying the more she’s learned about elections there, the more confident she is in them.
“I think they should feel very good about them,” she tells The Heartlander when asked what county residents should feel about their elections. “I have learned a lot since taking on this role. And the way they do their checks and balances, I’m much more pleased with it than maybe what I had heard about. And now that I’ve seen it for my own eyes, I feel so much more comfortable, and I feel much more trusting of the process here in Clay County for sure.”
What checks and balances is she talking about?
“The poll workers – when you go to cast your ballot, there’s a Republican and a Democrat. And they both have to sign the ballot to prove that they both gave [you] a ballot. And then you go and fill out your ballot and you put it in the machine and you can see the machine now [shows] a higher number than it did before you put your ballot in.
“Well, at the end of the day, they count how many ballots are left that haven’t been used, and then they open up the container and they [see] how many ballots that have been used, and those numbers have to equal the total number. Then they seal it up and they send it back to the office, and then it’s calibrated and counted with another set of Republicans and Democrats here at the office.”
That’s the other thing: the bipartisan spirit in the Clay County Election Office, which is a much different climate than the conservative Hall encountered as a member of the liberal Kansas City Council from 2015-23.
Clay County’s staff of half Republicans and half Democrats is led by one Republican director, now Hall, and one Democrat director, Tiffany Ellison. The warmth between Ellison and Hall is evident in this week’s press release announcing Hall’s hiring for the full-time job after serving in an interim capacity since November.
“I couldn’t be more thrilled to have Heather Hall as a Co-Director!” says Ellison in the release. “Her experience as an officeholder brings a fresh and valuable perspective to our team. Having already served as Interim Director, we’ve witnessed firsthand how effectively she works towards achieving the mission of the Election Board.
“Together, we are determined to improve and enhance the way we serve Clay County voters. Heather’s enthusiasm and dedication make her a true asset to our office. We are excited for positive changes we will make with Heather on board.”
No boiling seas, earthquakes or volcanoes here. Just dogs and cats living together.
In other words, neighbors and friends of different political persuasions actually working together amicably.
“We are very much in alignment with one another,” Hall says. “It’s really a lovely relationship, I’m pleased to report, because I didn’t necessarily have that every day for the last eight years of my life. So it’s kind of nice this way.”
Asked what changes voters can expect, Hall notes an increased focus on “really being diligent with the Secretary of State grant opportunities that we have and how to spend that money wisely for all the election resources we need – really being diligent with being fiscally responsible with the budget, how we spend the money and making sure we spend it wisely. And then, also, just giving ourselves a little added punch in the marketing side. We didn’t have a logo. We have a new logo.
“We are creating an atmosphere where we’re going out and being [assertive] on our marketing and our public relations to tell people what we’re doing and how we’re doing it. So we’re not on the defense; we’re really getting out there and telling our story in a positive way, and we really weren’t doing that.”
Of course, it’s not like this everywhere. Only 63% of Americans express confidence in elections, according to Gallup – and the gap in confidence between Democrats and Republicans “has never been wider,” the polling firm reports: 85% of Democrats are confident in elections, while only 40% of Republicans are.
Moreover, at least outside Clay County, Republicans may have good reason for those concerns about election integrity, especially in swing states.
Even in buttoned-down Johnson County, Kansas, just across the state line from Clay County, the sheriff and concerned citizens have been at odds with the Board of Commissioners over the integrity of the 2020 election there.
“I think there can be a problem in any election entity if they aren’t being smart about what they do, if they’re not being honest and being transparent by letting the public in,” Hall says. “Anytime you don’t allow people to see what you do, there’s always A) an opportunity for people to just make up what they believe or B) that’s where the mistrust is starting to breed.
“And so, if Johnson County wants to fix that problem, they should be more intentional about how they share with the public what they’re doing. And then if they are messing up, fix it. I mean, for goodness’ sake, it’s the people’s money. This is not a private institution. We’re a government agency paid for by tax dollars by the people. We should be transparent with the voters who got us in this position.”
As for any doubters in Clay County?
“Come over and see what we do,” Hall says. “I would love people to take a tour. We do an ‘opportunity’ when we get our machines in before we do absentee voting. What we do is, we have a public testing and we invite people from the public – equal number Democrat and equal number of Republicans – to come in, and they do pre-testing on all the machines to make sure they’re accurate, and then we allow the public to view it.
“And I think if people just had a chance to come and see it for their own eyes and watch how we do the pre-testing, I think they would have a lot more confidence. I know I have.”