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Ep. 18: Will Adler, BPC Elections Project Associate Director

Ballot Box Briefing: Episode 18

Show Tile for Ballot Box Briefing

The Ballot Box Briefing is a weekly segment on Sirius XM’s The Briefing, that examines the issues and storylines at the heart of running an efficient and accurate election. Guests include election administrators, local, state, and federal officials, cybersecurity experts, legal analysts, and members of BPC’s Democracy Program.

Episode 18. Will Adler discussed a new experimental dataset compiled by BPC, what it reveals about the election worker job market across the country, and how the data can be leveraged for further research on the election workforce.


The following interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.

Steve Scully (SS): I’m going to say Will Adler, but I should say Doctor Will Adler, you’ve got a Ph.D. 

Will Adler (WA): Yeah, that’s right. In neuroscience. I know, it’s a little weird.  

SS: How did you go from neuroscience to election issues? 

WA: Well, there was a really interesting link and the link was math. Some of the same methods that I was using in my Ph.D. to study the brain in about 2018 when I was wrapping up my Ph.D., advocates in the democracy reform space were using that same method to convince the Supreme Court that it was possible to measure how gerrymandered a district map was. So I was able to use some of that same training in neuroscience in the democracy, advocacy and reform space. 

SS: And I should point out with Matt Weil and the team here on the Democracy unit doing a lot of work when it comes to thinking about the 2024 elections, I know that they were at State College this week. They’ve been to Atlanta, kind of table topping things to be aware of because elections are not run by the federal government, they’re run by local jurisdictions… you’ve been looking at election administrators. Tell us about the study. 

WA: So you’re referring to these tabletop exercises that we’ve been holding. We’ve been going around convening election officials and tech companies to work through some of the issues that they might be facing this November with regards to tech and AI and so forth. But we’ve also been working on various issues from the workforce perspective. We have been trying to strengthen recruitment, retention and training among the election officials across the country. There’s so many—it’s a big challenge because election administration is so decentralized in this country, there’s almost 10,000 different jurisdictions where elections are administered. 

SS: So how do you fix that problem of making sure you have the right number of people in location to do the job that they need to do? 

WA: It’s a big challenge and you know there’s absolutely no one-size-fits-all approach here. There are countries that have central agencies, in some cases even co-equal branches of government that are responsible for administering elections and that’s just not the case in the U.S. Every different county is going to have radically different considerations in terms of how spread out are the people? What do the laws say about how people are able to vote? Can it support a full-time staff or is it just part-time staff who have other responsibilities? It’s all going to depend a lot on the specifics of each state and each county. It’s a big challenge. 

SS: And as you look at what’s happening in some of these communities in terms of the tabletop exercises, what has stood out in your mind? 

WA: What stood out is the importance of proactive communication about how elections are run in every state and every locality. Election officials need to get ahead of any threats that are going to come up in the information environment during the election and after the election by making sure they have connections with their constituents, connections with journalists, make sure that they’re well equipped to handle any possible crisis communications and things like that. But you know, we’re also finding that election officials are pretty well prepared. They are really experienced with coming up with contingency plans. I think that they are well equipped to run an excellent election this November. 

SS: And there’s been a lot of rhetoric about campaign 2020 and the election was stolen and that there was a lot of corruption. Certainly COVID had an impact on what happened in 2020. But talk about the people who are running these elections because they are really the ultimate when it comes to being civil servants. 

WA: They are absolutely incredible, dedicated civil servants. They do an amazing job upholding our Democracy in the face of these increased threats, and we’ve been studying ways to retain them better. We’ve been studying the rates of turnover and we just recently put together a data set that we hope will give us some insight into how they’re compensated, which is an essential piece of making sure that we can recruit and retain an experienced and knowledgeable election official workforce. 

SS: We’re talking to Will Adler here at the Bipartisan Policy Center, I just want to play a little bit of sound because this is from last night, (Rep.) Byron Donald, Republican of Florida. He’s a supporter of Donald Trump. But Abby Phillip asked him about the election results of 2020 and 2024. Let’s listen. 

[AUDIO CLIP]: If Donald Trump loses the election in 2024, will you accept the results of that election?  

My answer has been very clear on this. If the states, if the States and localities I should follow rules and procedures and everybody sees the rules followed, then of course you accept what’s done. But what you can’t have, what you cannot have are judges and municipalities… 

It’s a yes or no question. It’s a yes or no question. 

…in districts not following law passed by state legislatures, that has led us to the problems we have in our elections, that’s where you have, frankly, you have Republicans and Democrats object to elections. And so again, we just want to have a clear presence. 

Fair say that your so your answer is conditional on, based on… 

My answer is always conditional because you want to see the processes of the election actually go according to law, not according to outside groups and legal cases that come up, and you know they do come up. 

SS: So that was last night on CNN with Republican Byron Donalds. And Will Adler, I wanted to play that because it does go to the earlier point, how COVID really changed a lot of the election processes in 2020 and those procedures are in place, I should say in 2024. 

WA: That’s absolutely right. You know, I would hope to hear more officials and elected officials from both sides of the aisle refer to the fact that there were all these investigations and lawsuits after 2020 that did not find that election officials were violating their own laws and such in the way that they administered the elections. I hope that they would just indicate the level of trust that we have in election officials to run things smoothly rather than what it sounds like was happening there, which was a sort of setting up to cast doubt on the election, which by all accounts looks like it’s going to be run smoothly and in accordance with the laws and regulations of each state. 

SS: So you’re a numbers guy. You’re also a neuroscientist, so that’s a unique combination that you’d be a great contestant on Jeopardy, by the way. 

WA: I’ve never been that good at bar trivia, actually, so I’m not sure it would be my specialty. 

SS: But talk again about the study that you’ve done, what stood out. It’s available at How can local officials use this information. 

WA: So the data set that we’ve put together is on election official job descriptions. And the reason we put it together is because it’s very hard because of the decentralization of election administration to get even some of the most basic facts about the election official workforce. So there are these issues in understanding how they’re compensated, what are their job responsibilities. And we think that’s really important. If we want an experienced election workforce, we have to pay them sufficiently. And, are we doing that? It’s really hard to say because there’s no central guidelines or tracking of this kind of thing. So we try to gather data on this where we can and there is a survey that goes out to election officials across the country on do they feel like they’re well compensated? Are they satisfied with their job? But that only goes to the top election officials in a given county. But what about the rest of the staff? What about the majority of the people who make up the election workforce in the country? It’s much harder to say, it’s much harder to get insight into those job responsibilities, into their compensation. But you have to get a little creative. There’s this website called Election Line where it’s sort of a hub of election news, but it’s also a hub of election official job postings. And we have this archive going back about 15 years. So what we did is we scraped the entire thing off the web—with their permission—and we compiled that into a data set that researchers can use. We actually used AI to do some extraction of the information from those job descriptions and some analysis, and we put that publicly on the web, and we’ve done some analysis of it, and we hope that other researchers will take a look at it as well. 

SS: I should point out this Sunday on Meet the Press, Brad Raffensperger, who’s been on this program, he is the Secretary of State of Georgia, will be among the guests with Kristen Welker talking with secretaries of state about what’s happening in some of these key states and trying to anticipate what they can expect on Election Day. What are you expecting in November and all the early voting that will take place before the general election? 

WA: So some, a lot of states have early voting now, particularly after laws have been passed after COVID… 

SS: And that’s a good thing, isn’t it? 

WA: Absolutely. I mean, it takes a lot of pressure off of election officials to run all their operations on Election Day. You kind of want to alleviate that Election Day pressure, alleviate lines and so on. Spreading out voting so that more people are voting early and more people are voting absentee is a great thing for election administration. And we at BPC absolutely support giving voters additional options. But I expect Election Day to run pretty smoothly as it’s been running for most of this primary season. If you just look at how experienced election officials are this year, the primaries have run incredibly smoothly from an election administrator perspective. And I I think all signs indicate that they’ll be well equipped to handle the turnout in November as well. 

SS: We’re talking to Will Adler. He is part of the election team at the Bipartisan Policy Center and the other good thing in all of this is that we’re talking about it. We’re spending time every Friday we’re talking about election issues, trying to anticipate what will happen this year and learning from the lessons and a lot of it really the rhetoric lessons of 2020. 

WA: The rhetoric lessons of 2020 are to acknowledge the process, acknowledge the checks that election officials have in place to ensure a well-run, a fair and accurate election, and to just talk about what an excellent job most election officials do to run elections in this country. 

SS: I want to underscore this point. You know, my mom used to work at the polls. She loved doing it. I think she got paid 20, 25 bucks a day. She got there at 5:30 in the morning, came home at like, 9:30-10 at night. It was kind of a meet and greet of friends and family and neighbors. She looked forward to doing it every primary, every general election. So you have those people doing the work just because they want to do so as citizens of this country, citizens of their community. 

WA: Absolutely. I think being a poll worker is an amazing thing to do. I do it in DC where I’m a resident. I think it’s an amazing experience. I did it for the first time in a previous job where I was doing election security analysis and it was an incredible experience to just be right there in the polls seeing how people vote, seeing what the process is like, understanding all the checks, and actually you make more like $200 a day… so yeah, I really recommend doing it. 

SS: It was many years ago when [my mom] did it, but she’s to joke that would she be taxed on that? I think was 25, 30 bucks, but it wasn’t much… Will Adler is the Associate Director of the Elections Project here at the BPC and one of the questions we’re asking every one of our guests and I’m going to ask the same of you: if there is one thing that you wish people knew more or understood better about elections, what would it be? 

WA: Three words: elections are secure. There’s going to be a lot of information in the coming months about why, you know, irregularities might lead you to not want to trust the election. A lot of it might seem intriguing or convincing at first glance, but for almost everything that you hear is going to be something that election officials know about, that they have a fix for, that they’ve had a fix for in their procedures for years. And so they have this under control. It’s not just what happens on Election Night, right? Those are the unofficial results that get reported, but election officials keep counting. They count, they count, they canvas to make sure they’re counting every ballot. They check the results. 48 states have some kind of post-election audit procedure where they check their work to absolutely make sure that the outcome is correct and we think it’s important for people to know that and we have a report that we put out last week called United in Security that highlights all the different election security procedures and checks that are in place in almost all of the 10,000 jurisdictions across the country, and I think it’s really important for voters to know about those. 

SS: Go to And while you’re there, sign up for the free newsletter. Will Adler, a degree in Psychology from Carleton College, a Ph.D. in Neuroscience from NYU. I’m really impressed. 

WA: Thanks. Yeah, it was a good experience. 

SS: What is the study of neuroscience? I’m just curious. What do you study? 

WA: I mean it’s a huge field. There’s a lot of diversity. The program I was in, you had people doing stuff that was, basically cognitive psychology experiments where you’re putting people in front of a computer and having them play simple games and analyzing their behavior and trying to see what that reveals about the brain. But then you have people all the way down to studying animal brains, while they do things all the way down to studying a single neuron in a glass petri dish, it’s an incredibly diverse field. 

SS: Which is just perfect as you study elections. Will thank you very much for stopping by. We appreciate it. 

WA: Thank you.