Our conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
Edward-Isaac Dovere: When did you start to get the sense that this election was going to be a weird one for you?
Gabe Sterling: It wasn’t Election Night. In fact, on Election Night we were doing sort of a victory lap, considering what had happened in June with the new system. A couple of counties really screwed the pooch, which reflected on us, so we worked really hard to avoid getting [long] lines. We worked really hard to get people to do pre–Election Day voting. We were really churning and burning. The results are coming in and we’re doing great. It was Wednesday afternoon/evening when I knew. I was talking to people in the office and said, “Look, this is going to get hard.” Why is that? Because given what’s out there right now, the president is going to lose by about 10,000 votes.
Dovere: Would what has happened since have made sense to you a month ago?
Sterling: It doesn’t make any sense to me now. I’d say, “What are you talking about? We just had a great election. Everything’s great.” At some point, you start dealing with irrationality. [When we did the hand recount] we figured, okay, if we do this and it came out that good, surely this will kill the idea that these machines did something untoward. We were wrong. Facts and data don’t seem to really matter.
Dovere: You have your job that you are sworn to do. But you are a Republican. You voted for Donald Trump. This is not what you wanted to happen. How do you reconcile those two things that are pulling at you?
Sterling: The whole idea of these nonpartisan panels—there’s no such frickin’ thing. Everybody has their own feelings and their own thoughts. People who say they are completely independent or nonpartisan are not being honest with themselves. It’s also not necessarily easy, but if you’ve got a job to do, you just do the job.
Dovere: It’s sort of like with journalists, who of course have their own thoughts, there’s a way to separate what your personal thoughts are from what the job is.
Sterling: Absolutely. And it is hard, because in my state, I’m a known partisan. It’s not like I’m just a random person. I mean, I’ve run for office as a Republican. I am a known entity. To try to say that I’m not would be ridiculous. Almost as ridiculous as saying that Dominion voting machines flip votes.
Dovere: You call yourself a functionary, but the president and others have made you the center of attention because they don’t like where the votes landed. How has it been to be a functionary thrown into the middle of this?
Sterling: It’s unfortunate. I was a lot more eloquent when I was angry, but I did say the words If you want a position of leadership, show some. And that seems to have resonated with a lot of people. When I went up there, I had no clue what I was going to say. I’m never scripted. I found out about an hour earlier about the young man who had just taken a job as an election technician for Dominion. And these crazy conspiracy-theorist guys took videos of him doing an innocent part of his job, of taking a report off an election-management computer and taking it over to a county computer. Because we’re notoriously cheap and we don’t want to pay for a license for Excel on the election-management computer, so you move it over to a county computer so you can read a report on the batch as a check and balance for the recount. And they said he’s manipulating votes, he’s changing things. We’ve got you! He’s committing treason.