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The foot soldiers of democracy

On the Rhode Island Report podcast, the co-directors of “No Time to Fail” join R.I. election officials in talking about the importance of the electoral process and the threats it faces

From left to right, Boston Globe reporter Edward Fitzpatrick moderates a discussion with "No Time To Fail" director/producer Sara Archambault, director/producer Margo Guernsey, Cranston director of elections Nick Lima, and Rob Rock, director of elections for the Rhode Island secretary of state’s office.Lindsay Gearheart/Boston Globe

PROVIDENCE — The pandemic was raging, poll workers were calling in sick, and voters wearing face masks were standing in lines around the block.

Then-President Donald Trump was on TV making false claims of election fraud, and his supporters were protesting at the Board of Elections.

Not only that, 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 those pressures, election officials in Rhode Island pulled off an election cycle like none other in 2020, and two local filmmakers captured the behind-the-scenes moments in a new documentary called “No Time to Fail.”


The GlobeDocs Film Festival showed the 90-minute film on Oct. 13 at the Coolidge Corner Theatre in Brookline, Massachusetts. And as part of the Rhode Island Report podcast, co-directors Sara Archambault and Margo Guernsey joined Cranston director of elections Nick Lima and Rob Rock, director of elections for the secretary of state’s office, for an on-stage Q&A with Globe reporter Edward Fitzpatrick.

“One of the things that Margo and I discovered in the process of making this film,” Archambault said, “was how dedicated these election officials are to the nonpartisan value of every single vote and how much labor and attention went to every single person’s vote mattering.”

The film highlights some of the criticisms, conspiracy theories, and threats that elections officials have been facing around the country.

“You go to Georgia or Arizona, and there’s been death threats, and they’re putting up bulletproof glass or adding actual physical defenses to their offices or vote counting sites,” Lima said. “That’s unfathomable a couple of years ago, and it unfortunately may be what we need to do going forward.”

But he and Rock underscored the importance of making sure the electoral process works.


“We have a job to do, and our job is sacred,” Lima said. “Our job is critical to the success of our our democracy. It’s critical to confidence in our entire government, our society, our way of life. And we have to protect it.”

The film is coming out as election officials prepare for the midterm elections and as a Washington Post analysis has found that a majority of Republican nominees on the ballot this November for the House, Senate and key statewide offices — 291 in all — have denied or questioned the outcome of the last presidential election.

“I think, honestly, the biggest problem is that election deniers are running for office,” Guernsey said. “Once you have folks who are unwilling to certify a fair election, they’re willing to overturn that because they don’t agree with it. That’s dangerous.”

Guernsey said denying legitimate election results puts the country in “a bad place.”

“I think any sane person who believes in facts would be fearful of that,” she said. “When we lose trust in our own system, we’ve lost everything that is the underpinning of democracy.”

But Archambault said she drew comfort from the resolve local elections officials displayed, even in the face of the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the US Capitol. She said she called Rock as a mob of Trump supporters tried to prevent a joint session of Congress from counting the electoral college votes to formalize the victory of President Biden.


“You were like, ‘Don’t worry about it, the center will hold,’” Archambault told Rock. “And I think about that all of the time — that your faith in the system keeping us solid through the chaos of a moment, that your true belief in that, helped me weather that moment.”

Rock said criticism can be tough to hear when officials are working so hard to make sure elections work, but he said election officials are supposed to provide people with an opportunity to be heard.

“I think it’s our job to allow people to protest outside the Board of Elections and outside the Secretary of State’s office and to do whatever protest they want,” he said. “It’s our job is to put our heads down and get a job done.”

Archambault said disinformation about elections can act “like a virus,” and people can take advantage of the lack of information about electoral processes.

Rock said election officials must work hard in the years ahead to educate people about the process. “We have to get out in front of this stuff, and we have to make sure people realize that we have hardworking people all over the country making sure that you can vote,” he said. “There are processes in place to prevent fraud or to detect it and to make sure that everybody’s vote is counted.”

To watch the documentary, explore upcoming screenings. The film’s national virtual screening is Oct. 27, at 5 p.m. EDT.


To get the latest episode each week, follow Rhode Island Report podcast on Apple Podcasts and other podcasting platforms, or listen in the player above.

Edward Fitzpatrick can be reached at edward.fitzpatrick@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @FitzProv.