States seek to protect election workers amid growing threats

Feb 2, 2022, 5:00 PM | Updated: Feb 3, 2022, 7:03 am
FILE - Chester Doles, rear center, leader of American Patriots USA, is surrounded by supporters as ...

FILE - Chester Doles, rear center, leader of American Patriots USA, is surrounded by supporters as he makes his way to a 'Stop the Steal' rally outside of the Georgia State Capitol building, Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021, in Atlanta. During the tumultuous period immediately following the November 2020 presidential election, election workers across the country faced harassment and threats. Since then, legislators in a small but growing number of states have proposed measures to help protect those workers by creating or boosting penalties for such threats or assaults. (Alyssa Pointer/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP, File)

(Alyssa Pointer/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP, File)

MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) — Lawmakers in a handful of states are seeking greater protections for election officials amid growing concerns for their safety after they were targeted by threats of violence following the 2020 presidential election.

Widespread threats against those who oversee elections, from secretaries of state to county clerks and even poll workers, soared after former President Donald Trump and his allies spread false claims about the outcome of the presidential election. “Corrupt secretaries will all hang when the stolen election is revealed” is just one example of the vitriol that has come from social media, emails and phone messages.

Even in Vermont, where the outcome wasn’t disputed, election workers have faced threats. A caller to the secretary of state’s office said in 2020 that a firing squad would target “all you cheating (vulgarity),” and “a lot of people are going to get executed.”

To counter the threats, lawmakers have introduced bills so far in Vermont and several other states, including Illinois, Maine, New Mexico and Washington, all of which have legislatures controlled by Democrats. Much of the legislation would create or boost criminal liability for threats and, in Illinois, for assaults against election workers.

More legislation is possible, as election officials warn that the ongoing attacks endanger democracy and that many election workers have quit or are considering doing so because of the abuse they have faced since the 2020 election.

“Nationally, we are seeing longtime experienced election leaders and their staffs leaving their positions for other work because they’ve had it — this is it, this has crossed the line,” said Vermont Secretary of State Jim Condos, a Democrat.

A survey of local election officials commissioned by the Brennan Center last April found one in three felt unsafe because of their job and one in six said they had been threatened. Trump has continued to promote his false claims that the election was stolen from him, despite no evidence of the type of widespread fraud that would be needed to question the outcome, in which President Joe Biden won by more than 7 million votes.

One bill under consideration in Vermont would expand the definition of criminal threatening to make it easier to prosecute those acts. Another would heighten the penalty for the criminal threatening of election officials, public employees and public servants.

During a recent legislative committee hearing, Condos described how the threatening calls had scared one staffer 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 ever need to fear for their life for their role in serving our country’s democracy in this or any election,” Condos said.

A bill in Maine would make threats against election officials a class C felony, after threats to two local clerks in 2021.

“The message has to be loud and clear that this is a threat to our democracy,” said Democratic Rep. Bruce White, the sponsor. “Threatening people who work our elections is entirely unacceptable.”

In the immediate aftermath of the 2020 election, New Mexico Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver, a Democrat, left her home for weeks as a safety precaution in response to security concerns. A Democrat-sponsored bill introduced last month expands the felony crime of intimidation to include acts against employees and agents of the secretary of state, county clerks and municipal clerks.

Supporters of the legislation said expanding protections to all election office workers is important because threats haven’t been limited to top-level staff.

In Fulton County, Georgia, two election office workers — one a temporary employee — filed a lawsuit in December against a conservative website, accusing it of spreading false stories about them. Their lawsuit said the false claims led to a “deluge of intimidation, harassment, and threats that has forced them to change their phone numbers, delete their online accounts, and fear for their physical safety.”

In the weeks following the election, a top Georgia elections official condemned the onslaught of threats and called on Trump to rein in his supporters. At the time, Trump was claiming “massive voter fraud” in the state and people were driving in caravans past the home of Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, a Republican, and sending sexualized threats to Raffensperger’s wife.

At the federal level, an election threats task force within the U.S. Department of Justice has reviewed more than 850 reports of threats to election officials, Assistant Attorney General Kenneth Polite said. Two people have been charged with federal crimes for threatening election workers, including a Texas man charged with threatening to kill government officials in Georgia after the 2020 election. Polite said the department also has dozens of open investigations.

Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, a Democrat, said it’s imperative that harassers face prosecution.

“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 safety since the 2020 election.

Legislation also was introduced by a group of Democrats in the U.S. Senate last year that would make it a federal crime for any person to intimidate or threaten an election worker. It became part of a larger 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 nation’s electoral process. That proposal also might include ways to boost protections for election workers who are facing threats and harassment.

Colorado Secretary of State Jena Griswold, a Democrat, said she continues to receive threats and was working on a legislative proposal to protect election workers.

“I don’t think that signing up to administer elections should mean that you’re afraid that someone is going to hurt you,” Griswold said. “We can’t have an atmosphere where election workers are afraid to do what’s right, afraid to uphold the will of the people, because they’re afraid for their kids and for their homes and their lives. That’s not a democracy.”

____

Cassidy reported from Atlanta. Associated Press writers Michael Balsamo in Washington, D.C.; Morgan Lee, in Santa Fe, New Mexico; and David Sharp in Portland, Maine, contributed to this report.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

AP

FILE - A sign marks the entrance of the Micron Technology automotive chip manufacturing plant on Fe...
Associated Press

Japan to pay up to $320M for US company’s chip production

TOKYO (AP) — Japan is providing a major U.S. chipmaker a subsidy of up to 46.6 billion yen ($322 million) to support its plan to produce advanced memory chips at a Hiroshima factory, the Japanese trade minister said Friday. The announcement to subsidize Micron Technology comes on the heels of U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris’ […]
23 hours ago
A man works at a manufacturer of Integrated Chip encapsulation in Nantong in eastern China's Jiangs...
Associated Press

China manufacturing weak, adding to economy pressure

BEIJING (AP) — Growth in Chinese factory activity was weak in September, export orders fell and employers cut jobs, two surveys showed Friday, adding to pressure on lackluster economic growth. A monthly purchasing managers’ index released by business news magazine Caixin fell to 48.1 from August’s 49.5 on a 100-point scale on which readings below […]
23 hours ago
FILE - Reserve Bank of India (RBI) Governor Shaktikanta Das gestures during a press conference afte...
Associated Press

India raises interest rate to 5.90% to tame inflation

NEW DELHI (AP) — India’s central bank on Friday raised its key interest rate by 50 basis points to 5.90% in its fourth hike this year and said developing economies were facing challenges of slowing growth, elevated food and energy prices, debt distress and currency depreciation. Reserve Bank of India Governor Shaktikanta Das projected inflation […]
23 hours ago
Currency traders watch monitors at the foreign exchange dealing room of the KEB Hana Bank headquart...
Associated Press

Asian stocks sink on German inflation, British tax cuts

BEIJING (AP) — Asian stocks sank again Friday after German inflation spiked higher, British Prime Minister Liz Truss defended a tax-cut plan that rattled investors and Chinese factory activity weakened. Shanghai, Tokyo, Hong Kong and Sydney retreated. Oil prices edged lower. Wall Street’s benchmark S&P 500 index fell 2.1% on Thursday to its lowest level […]
23 hours ago
FILE - Jackson Mayor Chokwe Lumumba participates in a forum about the challenges Mississippi's capi...
Associated Press

Water crisis tests Mississippi mayor who started as activist

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — The mayor of Mississippi’s capital was 5 years old when his parents moved their family from New York to Jackson in 1988 so that his father, who had been involved in a Black nationalist movement in the 1970s, could return to the unfinished business of challenging inequity and fighting racial injustice. […]
23 hours ago
Residents check on one another in a flooded neighborhood in the aftermath of Hurricane Ian, Thursda...
Associated Press

After Ian, the effects in southwest Florida are everywhere

Hurricane Ian was over southwest Florida for only a few hours. It will take months to clean up all the damage. Maybe longer. And some of the destruction can’t be cleaned up at all. From trees getting ripped out of the ground to signs being ripped apart, traffic lights crashing onto roadways and some buildings […]
23 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

Anacortes Christmas Tree...

Come one, come all! Food, Drink, and Coastal Christmas – Anacortes has it all!

Come celebrate Anacortes’ 11th annual Bier on the Pier! Bier on the Pier takes place on October 7th and 8th and features local ciders, food trucks and live music - not to mention the beautiful views of the Guemes Channel and backdrop of downtown Anacortes.
Swedish Cyberknife Treatment...

The revolutionary treatment of Swedish CyberKnife provides better quality of life for majority of patients

There are a wide variety of treatments options available for men with prostate cancer. One of the most technologically advanced treatment options in the Pacific Northwest is Stereotactic Body Radiation Therapy using the CyberKnife platform at Swedish Medical Center.
Work at Zum Services...

Seattle Public Schools announces three-year contract with Zum

Seattle Public Schools just announced a three-year contract with a brand-new company to the Pacific Northwest to assist with their student transportation: Zum.
Swedish Cyberknife 900x506...

June is Men’s Health Month: Here’s Why It’s Important To Speak About Your Health

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, men in the United States, on average, die five years earlier than women.
...

Anacortes – A Must Visit Summertime Destination

While Anacortes is certainly on the way to the San Juan Islands (SJI), it is not just a destination to get to the ferry… Anacortes is a destination in and of itself!
...

Ready for your 2022 Alaskan Adventure with Celebrity Cruises?

Celebrity Cruises SPONSORED — A round-trip Alaska cruise from Seattle is an amazing treat for you and a loved one. Not only are you able to see and explore some of the most incredible and visually appealing natural sights on the planet, but you’re also able to relax and re-energize while aboard a luxury cruise […]
States seek to protect election workers amid growing threats