Also, some voting machines were malfunctioning, snow was falling, and a pregnant woman was trying to vote on her way to the hospital to give birth.
Despite all that pressure, Rhode Island election officials pulled off an unparalleled election cycle in 2020, and two local filmmakers captured the behind-the-scenes moments in a new documentary titled “No time to fail.”
The GlobeDocs Film Festival showed the 90-minute film on October 13 at the Coolidge Corner Theater in Brookline, Massachusetts. And as part of the Rhode Island Report podcast, co-producers Sara Archambault and Margo Guernsey joined Cranston Chief Electoral Officer Nick Lima and Rob Rock, Chief Electoral Officer for the Office of the Secretary of State, for a Q&A- answers on stage with Globe reporter Edward Fitzpatrick. .
“One of the things that Margot and I discovered during the process of making this film,” Archambault said, “is how dedicated these election officials are to the nonpartisan value of every vote and how many Much work and attention has gone into making every person vote important.
The film highlights some of the criticism, conspiracy theories and threats that election officials have faced across the country.
“You go to Georgia or Arizona, and there have been death threats, and they put up bulletproof glass or add real physical defenses to their offices or counting sites,” Lima said. “It’s unfathomable a few years ago, and it may be unfortunately what we have to do in the future.”
But he and Rock stressed the importance of making sure the electoral process works.
“We have a job to do, and our work is sacred,” Lima said. “Our work is essential to the success of our democracy. It is essential to have confidence in our whole government, our society, our way of life. And we have to protect it.
The film is released as election officials prepare for midterm elections and as Washington Post analysis found that a majority of Republican candidates in the November ballot for the House, Senate and major state offices – 291 in total – denied or questioned the result of the last presidential election.
“I think, honestly, the biggest problem is Holocaust deniers running for office,” Guernsey said. “Once you have people who don’t want to certify a fair election, they’re ready to overturn it because they don’t agree with it. It’s dangerous.”
“We’re in a bad patch,” Archambault said. “I think any sane person who believes in facts would be scared of it. When we lose faith in our own system, we lose everything that is the basis of democracy.
But she said she was heartened by the resolve displayed by local election officials, even in the face of the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol. She said she called Rock as a crowd of Trump supporters tried to block a joint session of Congress from counting Electoral College votes to formalize President Biden’s victory.
“You were like, ‘Don’t worry, the center will hold,'” Archambault told Rock. “And I think about it all the time – that your faith in the system keeps us strong through the chaos of a moment, that your true belief in it got me through that moment.”
Rock said criticism can be hard to hear when officials are working so hard to make sure elections work, but he said election officials are meant to give people the opportunity to be heard.
“I think it’s our job to allow people to demonstrate in front of the Elections Office and in front of the Secretary of State’s office and do whatever they want,” he said. “It’s our job to put our heads down and do a job.”
Archambault said misinformation about elections can act “like a virus” and people can take advantage of the lack of information about election processes.
Rock said election officials need to work hard in the coming years to educate people about the process. “We have to come out in front of this stuff, and we have to make sure people realize that we have hard working people all over the country to make sure you can vote,” he said. “There are processes in place to prevent fraud or to detect it and to make sure everyone’s vote is counted.”
To watch the documentary, explore upcoming screenings. The national virtual screening of the film will take place on October 27 at 5 p.m. EDT.
To get the latest episode each week, follow the Rhode Island Report podcast on Apple podcast and other podcasting platforms, or listen in the player above.