Rachel Rodriguez on mistrust of Wisconsin's election process

Dane County election management specialist Rachel Rodriguez discusses how misconceptions about how voting is administered start and circulate, and how conspiracy theories have intensified since 2020.

By Zac Schultz | Here & Now

October 11, 2022

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Rachel Rodriguez:
There's always been a little bit of sort of that wing of... And it's not even the same party. You would see at the end 2016 there was some conspiracy theories or some questioning coming from the left, whereas now it's coming from the right. But I think when we started, we were kind of a little-known agency, if you will. People didn't really... They would go on an election day, they'd vote or they'd get their absentee ballot in the mail, but they didn't really think about the process to what was involved in making that happen. And while I definitely like that people are more knowledgeable about how the process works and that they are interested in the actual mechanisms of election administration, I definitely do wish that it would be under circumstances that were a little bit less intense and that that vitriol that you're seeing now wasn't there, that the questioning of everything that we do, it wasn't because of that.

Zac Schultz:
So what is the knowledge difference between those who are most intense in questioning what's going on? Because I'm assuming those who understand a little more probably have a different tone or approach to criticism or critique than those who have no clue.

Rachel Rodriguez:
Yeah, I think some of the most intense sort of critics are really the ones who honestly don't understand the process as well. They will see something, something benign, and they will completely misinterpret what that potentially means. Or something that's a little bit unusual to them but is completely common and totally understandable to folks who run elections, and it just gets wildly misinterpreted in the way that they see it. I remember an example from 2016 when we were doing the recount in 2016. So in Wisconsin law, the clerk or the deputy clerk has to initial all the absentee ballots before they go out in the mail and before they see a voter. And we had observers who were questioning why all of these ballots had the same sets of initials because they were confusing that set of initials with the witness requirement that is required for an absentee ballot to be counted. So they were thinking, well, who's all this person who's witnessing all these absentee ballots? And it took 30 minutes before an article was on Gateway Pundit and being completely misinterpreted. And then threats and harassment were happening because of just this very little benign misunderstanding that got completely blown out of proportion.

Zac Schultz:
So what kind of shift occurred after 2020? I guess in the lead up during 2020, obviously there was enough going on to make everything crazy. Were you anticipating how bad it would get afterwards or did that surprise you?

Rachel Rodriguez:
I think it surprised most election administrators just about how bad it got and how long it would last. I think prior to 2020 there were definitely people who would misinterpret something about the election process or were maybe mistrusting of how the tabulators work. But if you were to show them how the tests work or maybe they become a poll worker and they understand how the process works, there was at least a level of reasoning of people that you were talking to. Now it just seems like you could explain till you're blue in the face. But you'll get these explanations and the person will just come back to you and they'll just be like, "Well, yeah, but I just like "I feel like something was wrong." And so even though they can't necessarily identify it, you don't ever totally get through to them because they just cannot be convinced that everything is working properly.

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