MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) – Lawmakers in a handful of states are seeking greater protection for election officials amid growing concerns for their safety after they faced threats of violence following the presidential election in 2020.
Widespread threats against those overseeing the election, from secretaries of state to county clerks and even poll workers, have skyrocketed after former President Donald Trump and his allies spread false claims about the election result. ‘presidential election. “The corrupt secretaries will all be suspended when the stolen election is exposed” is just one example of the vitriol that has come from social media, emails and phone messages.
Even in Vermont, where the result was unchallenged, election workers faced threats. A caller to the secretary of state’s office said in 2020 that a firing squad would target “anyone who cheats (vulgarity)” and “a lot of people are going to be executed.”
To counter the threats, lawmakers have so far introduced bills in Vermont and several other states, including Illinois, Maine, New Mexico and Washington, all of which have Democratic-controlled legislatures. . Much of the legislation would create or strengthen criminal liability for threats and, in Illinois, for assaults on election workers.
More legislation is possible as election officials warn that ongoing attacks endanger democracy and many election workers have resigned or are considering resigning due to abuses they have faced since the 2020 election.
“Nationally, we’re seeing experienced, long-serving election leaders and their staff leaving for other jobs because they got it — that’s it, it’s crossed the line,” the secretary said. of State of Vermont, Jim Condos, a Democrat.
A survey of local election officials commissioned by the Brennan Center last April found that one in three did not feel safe because of their job and one in six said they had been threatened. Trump has continued to promote his bogus claims that the election was stolen from him, despite no evidence of the kind of widespread fraud that would be needed to challenge the result, in which President Joe Biden won more than 7 million votes. .
A bill pending in Vermont would expand the definition of criminal threat to make it easier to prosecute these acts. Another would increase the penalty for criminal threats against election officials, public employees and officials.
At a recent legislative committee hearing, Condos described how the threatening calls frightened a staff member to the point that he was afraid to leave work and walk to his vehicle. He eventually took time off and sought counseling for symptoms associated with post-traumatic stress.
“No election official should have to fear for their life for their role in serving our country’s democracy in this election or any election,” Condos said.
A bill in Maine would make threats against election officials a Class C felony, after threatening two local clerks in 2021.
“The message needs to be loud and clear that this is a threat to our democracy,” said Democratic Representative Bruce White, the sponsor. “Threatening the people who work in our elections is completely unacceptable.”
Immediately following the 2020 election, New Mexico Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver, a Democrat, left her home for weeks as a safety measure in response to security concerns. A Democratic-sponsored bill introduced last month expands the crime of intimidation to include acts against employees and agents of the secretary of state, county clerks and city clerks.
Supporters of the legislation said it was important to extend protections to all election office workers because the threats were not limited to high-level personnel.
In Fulton County, Georgia, two election office workers — including a temporary worker — filed a lawsuit in December against a conservative website, accusing it of spreading false stories about them. Their lawsuit said the false allegations led to a “deluge of intimidation, harassment and threats that forced them to change their phone numbers, delete their online accounts and fear for their physical safety”.
In the weeks after the election, a senior Georgia election official condemned the onslaught of threats and called on Trump to rein in his supporters. At the time, Trump claimed it was ‘massive voter fraud’ in the state and people were driving by the home of Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, a Republican, and sending sexual threats to Raffensperger’s wife.
At the federal level, an Election Threats Task Force within the US Department of Justice has reviewed more than 850 reports of threats against election officials, Assistant Attorney General Kenneth Polite said. Two people have been charged with federal crimes for threatening election workers, including a Texas man accused of threatening to kill government officials in Georgia after the 2020 election. Poli said the department also has dozens of open investigations.
Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, a Democrat, said it was imperative that the harassers be prosecuted.
“Unless people are held accountable, this kind of behavior is going to continue,” she said.
In October, a congressional committee heard from election officials about graphic threats to their security since the 2020 election.
Legislation was also introduced by a group of Democrats in the US Senate last year that would make it a federal crime for anyone to intimidate or threaten an election worker. It became part of a broader effort by Democrats to create federal standards for voting and restore a key provision of the Voting Rights Act.
That broader effort has since stalled, although there are signs that a bipartisan proposal may be in the works that could shore up what election experts have described as weaknesses in the country’s electoral process. This proposal could also include ways to strengthen protections for election workers facing threats and harassment.
Colorado Secretary of State Jena Griswold, a Democrat, said she continues to receive threats and is working on a legislative proposal to protect election workers.
“I don’t think signing up to administer elections should mean you’re afraid someone will hurt you,” Griswold said. “We cannot have an atmosphere where election workers are afraid to do what is right, afraid to uphold the will of the people, because they are afraid for their children, their homes and their lives. It is not a democracy.
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