US election officials fear for their safety amid threats and disinformation, report finds

One in five election workers may quit before 2024 following wave of partisan legislation and abuse

Alex Woodward
New York
Thursday 10 March 2022 23:58 GMT
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Hundreds of elections administrators continue to face harassment and abuse and fear for their lives on the job, continuing an “alarming” level of threats against the people who help run the nation’s elections.

Partisan election interference, political attacks against a historically nonpartisan civic role, and a rise in disinformation has made election work unsustainable, and one in five workers may quit before 2024.

A new poll from the Brennan Center for Justice reveals just how “damaging” sustained attacks against election workers and their colleagues have been, “putting apolit­ical elec­tion admin­is­tra­tion and our demo­cratic system in seri­ous danger.”

One in six election workers have experienced threats because of their job, reflecting a similar rate from 2021, despite assurance from the US Department of Justice to “vigorously prosecute” offenders with the creation of an elections task force last summer.

More than half of poll respondents reported harassment on the phone, on social media or on the job.

Among those who have endured abuse, nearly 75 per cent were threatened on the phone, and more than half were threatened in person. A quarter were threatened in the mail, and 27 per cent were targeted on social media

Nearly three-quarters of respondents were concerned for the safety of their colleagues, while 65 per cent fear in-person abuse, and 63 per cent feared harassment over the phone.

More than three-quarters of respondents said threats against them have increased in recent years.

Growing threats follow a baseless narrative promoted by Donald Trump and his allies undermining the results of the 2020 presidential election, which he continues to call a “hoax” and “stolen” as he did before a single ballot was even cast – despite bipartisan efforts to protect and expand voting rights in 2020, and the Trump administration’s assurance that the presidential election was “the most secure in American history”.

A wave of GOP-sponsored legislation in most state legislatures to roll back voting access, hand election oversight to Republican legislators and criminally punish election workers for minor infractions or mistakes.

Among those who plan to leave their jobs before 2024 elections, one-third cited political attacks against a process that they know is fair and honest as one of central reas­ons for leav­ing.

More than half of respondents are worried their new colleagues believe the 2020 election was stolen, and nearly one in five are worried they will be pressured to reject election outcomes.

“As conspir­acy theor­ies continue to grip a signi­fic­ant portion of the elect­or­ate, over half of elec­tion offi­cials are concerned that some incom­ing elec­tion offi­cials might believe there was wide­spread voter fraud during the 2020 elec­tions,” according to the Brennan Center.

More than three-quarters of election workers also believe social media companies have not done enough to stop the spread of mis- and disinformation on their platforms, while having to combat false claims from voters who have been misled by inaccurate election information proliferating online.

The Justice Department launched an election task force in July 2021 to investigate and prosecute threats against election workers.

It made its first public indictment in January 2022, charging a Texas man accused of using Craigslist to issue a call for “Georgia Patriots” to “put a bullet” in federal, state and local officials.

Only 9 per cent of Brennan poll respondents said they were “very familiar” with the task force, though after hearing about it, 57 per cent were some­what or very confid­ent that it would make them feel safer.

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