George Russell was dedicated to honest elections in Kentucky and around the world

‘One of the greatest things we can do is export democracy,’ he said upon receiving the Freedom Award

January 12, 2023 5:30 am

George Russell’s Peace Corps Group getting ready to go to Chile in 1964. George is seventh from the left. (Photo provided)

George Russell, who died recently, was a champion of free and fair elections
in Kentucky and around the world.

His work and that of his colleagues across the globe for democracy and freedom will always prevail against those who make false allegations about election fraud or try to suppress the voting rights of their fellow citizens.

George spent decades in Kentucky and many foreign countries making sure elections were safe and every vote was properly counted. Today, when a losing
candidate says an election was “rigged” or claims there was “manipulation” of ballots or voting machines, remember that there are thousands of Americans like George, working diligently to guarantee that doesn’t happen.

George Russell in Nagasaki, Japan

In his career, George worked with the Kentucky Board of Elections as executive director and later as a long-time board member. He was a trusted adviser
to public officials from governor and U.S. senator to county clerks all over Kentucky.
In addition, he monitored elections in 19 countries for the Organization for
Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).

OSCE is the world’s largest regional security organization, and includes 57 nations that span the globe, encompassing three continents — North America,
Europe, and Asia — and more than a billion people.

As a long-term OSCE election observer, George was sometimes the sole representative of the United States on international teams monitoring elections around the world – from Albania to Kazakhstan, and from Cambodia to El Salvador to Malawi.

Because of his outstanding election work at home and abroad, the National Association of Secretaries of State selected George 20 years ago to receive the
Freedom Award. Upon accepting the award, George said “One of the greatest things we can do is export democracy.”

George’s dedication to democracy and freedom started in the 1960s, when he answered President John F. Kennedy’s call to public service by working as a Peace Corps volunteer in Chile for two years.

When Kennedy created the Peace Corps, he said: “Life in the Peace Corps will not be easy . . . but it will be rich and satisfying. For every young American who participates in the Peace Corps — who works in a foreign land — will know that he or she is sharing in the great common task of bringing to man that decent way of life which is the foundation of freedom and a condition of peace.”

A couple of months ago, after returning from Israel and Jordan, George said he had visited 78 countries, some for his election work and others purely for the adventure.  Upon his passing, friends from around Kentucky and the world deluged his Facebook page with comments honoring George’s life and work.

George’s professional work was vital for effective elections in Kentucky, and his volunteer work was vital to young democracies around the world.

He was an outstanding public servant who was also dedicated to many organizations in his community. When help was needed, George was always there.

As his obituary notes, George was a unique and adventurous spirit. When we lose somebody like him, it’s important for the rest of us to fill the void by stepping up and doing what we can for others in our community, our state, our nation and the world.

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.