Comment: There are heroes among those counting ballots

Wandrea ArShaye Moss was an election worker, until her life and family were threatened by a ‘big lie’ mob.

By Robin Givhan / The Washington Post

The committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol has solicited the testimony of a host of men and women who held esteemed titles: attorney general, senior adviser to the president of the United States, federal judge, secretary of state. And they all described, often in emotional terms, how they, in some way, spoke truth to power. They did not believe former president Donald Trump’s fiction about a stolen election. They refused his entreaties to find nonexistent votes and would not legitimize conjured up electors. They ignored Trump’s threats.

On Tuesday afternoon, a trio of Republican men from Georgia and Arizona told their stories of defiance and certitude at the committee’s fourth public hearing: Brad Raffensberger, Gabriel Sterling and Russell “Rusty” Bowers. They were men of some clout and privilege in politics, men whose party affiliation was made plain as further proof of their courage. They were men who were accustomed to being heard and even obeyed. Men for whom the system was built.

“The system held, but barely,” said Rep. Adam B. Schiff, D-Calif.

And yet, our democracy only really functions at all because of folks like Wandrea ArShaye “Shaye” Moss. She held a far less impressive title: employee. Her testimony held the weight of a country’s shame and sorrow.

Moss was an election worker for more than a decade, and during her time at the Fulton County Department of Registration and Elections in Georgia, from 2017 to 2022, she handled voter applications and absentee ballot requests. She also helped process ballots after the 2020 election. She chose her job not because it afforded her prestige or wealth, but because it was steeped in meaning.

“I’ve always been told by my grandmother how important it is to vote and how people before me, a lot of people, older people in my family, did not have that right. So what I loved the most about my job were the older voters,” testified Moss, who is Black. “Older voters like to call; they like to talk to you; they like to get my card; they like to know that every election, I’m here. Even college students, a lot of parents trusted me to make sure their child does not have to drive home; they’ll get an absentee ballot. They can vote. I really found pleasure in that.”

“They want a new precinct card; they don’t have copy machine or a computer or all of that, I could put it in the mail for them. I was excited always about sending out all the absentee ballots for the elderly or disabled people,” Moss said. “I even remember driving to a hospital to give someone her absentee application.

“That’s what I love the most.”

And so, the system chugged along. Because of people like Moss.

Until Trump and his lawyer Rudy Giuliani and a chorus of enablers tried to break the system by destroying her, just one of an assortment of schemes.

They falsely accused Moss and her mother Ruby Freeman, who also helped process ballots, of being election hustlers; of being a cabal of two who tainted Georgia’s election results. The women were stalked and threatened on social media and in real life. The FBI told Freeman she needed to leave her home, for safety. Vigilantes on the hunt for the two election workers thronged to Moss’ grandmother’s home with plans to make a citizen’s arrest. The mother and daughter received messages filled with rage and hate and racism. The Trump mob, in all its populist hubris, went after these women who live at a far distance from the deep state, the Washington swamp and the coastal elite.

Moss walked into the crowded hearing room with her mother. Freeman took a seat in the front row of spectators, and her daughter settled in at the witness table, but not before glancing back to maker sure her mother was OK; that her mother was there. Freeman wore red; Moss was dressed in black. Moss looked up at the committee. She took several deep breaths. She bit her lips. She looked slightly pained. Her face, her body language reminded the audience that this is not easy. This is not normal.

Chairman Bennie G. Thompson, D-Miss., greeted Moss and asked, “Would you like to introduce your mama?” It was a genial offer. Hospitable even. Moss gestured to her mother, and Freeman smiled and waved at the chairman. In that moment, the starched formality of the hearing softened. The testimony that was to come was not about electors and scanners and far-fetched lawsuits. It was not a referendum on politicians and oaths of office. It was about this daughter and her mama.

The committee has spoken at length about the threat to our democracy posed by Trump and his mob. And that is undeniable even if this “clear and present” danger at times feels more like an unnerving intellectual exercise. Moss expressed the damage in sad and human terms. She raised her right hand and agreed to tell the truth. Her nails were all gussied up with a stiletto manicure in cheerful shades of orange and yellow. A charm bracelet danged from her wrist. She was not staid federal Washington. She was colorful and personable. She was the human face of an election bureaucracy. A true believer in civic duty. A Black woman instilled with the value of the vote.

Moss testified about what Jan. 6 — and all that led up to it and all that followed it — cost her.

“It’s turned my life upside down. I no longer give out my business card,” she said. “I don’t want anyone knowing my name. I don’t want to go anywhere with my mom because she might yell my name out over the grocery aisle or something. I don’t go to the grocery store at all. I haven’t been anywhere at all. I gained about 60 pounds. I just don’t do nothing anymore; I don’t want to go anywhere. I second-guess everything I do.

“It’s affected my life in a major way. In every way. All because of lies.”

Moss is no longer an election worker. “I want to say how very sorry I think we all are for what you’ve gone through. And tragically, you’re not alone,” Schiff said. “Other election workers around the country have also been the subject of lies and threats.”

She is damaged. The system is broken.

Robin Givhan is senior critic-at-large writing about politics, race and the arts. A 2006 Pulitzer Prize winner for criticism, Givhan has also worked at Newsweek/Daily Beast, Vogue magazine and the Detroit Free Press. Follow her on Twitter @RobinGivhan.

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