‘Mortal danger to American democracy’: Third of election workers worry about their safety, report finds

‘Alarming’ level of violent threats against elections administrators follows wave of disinformation and Trump’s baseless fraud allegations

Alex Woodward
New York
Wednesday 16 June 2021 19:16
Hillary Clinton says those casting doubt on 2020 election are 'doing Putin's work'

While Donald Trump and his allies continue to undermine the results of the 2020 election, and Republican lawmakers aim to take control of the electoral process with a tide of partisan legislation, violent threats against election workers have reached an “alarming” level in the US.

One in three election workers feel unsafe because of their jobs, and one in six workers have faced threats as they help run the nation’s elections, according to a report from the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law and the Bipartisan Policy Center.

Those threats have followed legislation aimed at election workers from Republican lawmakers, who have turned the administrative task of running the nation’s elections into a hostile political minefield, while the former president wages an assault on the electoral process, which he continues to call a “hoax” and “corrupt” as he did before a single ballot was cast in 2020 elections.

While Republican lawmakers filed dozens of baseless election bills that will make it harder to vote for the sake of preserving “election integrity” and “voter confidence” in their states, “they have almost entirely ignored one of the most pernicious threats to our democracy in decades: the harassment and intimidation of election workers”, according to the report.

“All of this represents a mortal danger to American democracy, which cannot survive without public servants who can freely and fairly run our elections,” the report says. “We must ensure that they feel not only safe but also supported and appreciated for their vital efforts.”

The report also found that the increased spread of social media disinformation about elections “indelibly changed the lives and careers of election officials”.

Seventy-eight per cent of respondents said mis- and disinformation on social media made their jobs more difficult, and 54 per cent said it made their jobs more dangerous.

Heightened partisan interference and increased pressure from GOP-backed campaigns to put their thumbs on the electoral scale could also have long-term impacts among elections agencies, as nearly 35 per cent of local election officials in 2020 were eligible for retirement by the 2024 election, the report found.

The findings echo an Associated Press report revealing an “exodus” of county election officials in the aftermath of the 2020 election and incoming Republican legislation that aims to strip them of their oversight or punish them for proactively sending out mail-in ballots or advertising upcoming elections on social media.

Roughly one-third of Pennsylvania’s county election officials have left their jobs within the last year, a spokesperson for the state’s county commissioners association told the outlet.

The Brennan Center report issued more than a dozen policy recommendations, including the creation of a US Department of Justice elections threats task force to identify and prosecute threats against election officials and workers, and for internet providers and federal agencies to combat the spread of dis- and misinformation on platforms.

At least 148 GOP-sponsored bills in 36 state legislatures this year have proposed “micromanaging” elections, stripping away oversight from election administrators and giving it to lawmakers, or giving lawmakers authority to remove election officials – measures that aim to “[consolidate] power in their own hands over processes intended to be free of partisan or political interference,” the Brennan Center says.

Several other measures – like laws passed Florida and Iowa – impose heavy fines against elections officials for technical infractions or making ballot drop-boxes accessible outside early voting hours.

Meanwhile, partisan-driven recounts and reviews of state election results are underway, including an inquisition in Arizona performed by a company that has supported baseless election conspiracy theories; similar audits have been called for Georgia and Pennsylvania.

In a recent op-ed for The Washington Post, Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs warned: “Republicans aren’t just protesting the results of our most recent presidential election; they are laying the groundwork to steal the next one.”

“They are sowing doubt about our electoral process to justify a crackdown on voting rights,” she wrote.

US Attorney General Merrick Garland and the Justice Department have warned that “disinformation”-backed vote reviews “may put the integrity of the voting process at risk and undermine public confidence in our democracy,” Mr Garland said in remarks on voting rights.

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