By Fredreka Schouten and Kelly Mena, CNN
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The ugly, violent and relentless threats against election officials and poll workers since the 2020 election remains one of the toughest stories we’ve had to cover in the past year. Harassers have besieged this group with dark promises to hunt them down or hang them or harm their children.
And it’s changed lives for people across the country: One Philadelphia official told Fredreka about nightmares disturbing his 3-year-old after a barrage of threats brought police to guard the family home.
A Georgia official and his wife canceled visits from the grandkids at one point to protect them from angry protesters or worse. A New Mexico official fled her home for several weeks.
One election official in Detroit, who now walks with a gun, compared the onslaught against election workers to the January 6, 2021, attack on the US Capitol. “Except,” she said, “they’re coming to our homes.”
All because they did their jobs and stood firm against pressure campaigns to overturn the 2020 election results.
States fight back
Now, some lawmakers want to fight back.
Legislators in at least eight states — ranging from Vermont to Colorado — have introduced bills to better protect election workers or more harshly punish offenders, according to Reuters.
Washington state Sen. David Frockt, a sponsor of one of the bills, recently told Kelly: “I just felt we needed to make a strong statement that at a minimum, we’re gonna protect these election workers who are doing a very noble service and have always done it without controversy.”
“We’re not going to submit to mob rule,” the Democrat added.
On Monday, Georgia’s Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger called for extra security at polling places.
But some of the proposals have encountered some resistance, and it’s not clear what will stop the vitriol as we head into crucial midterm elections this year.
Frockt’s bill, which would make it a felony to harass an election official, recently passed the state Senate. But some lawmakers have raised red flags about the impact of adding stiff new penalties to criminal codes.
“Giving someone a felony conviction not only has the consequence of an incarceration period…but lifelong consequences — loss of voting rights,” state Rep. Tarra Simmons, a Democrat and a former prisoner herself, said last March when Frockt’s bill was first considered by lawmakers in the state
As state legislators weigh new laws, federal officials have begun to take action.
In the last month, the Justice Department announced charges against two people: A Texas man they alleged threatened to kill officials in Georgia and a Nevada man for allegedly making several threatening phone calls to the Nevada Secretary of State’s Office on the morning after the attack on the US Capitol.
The arrests marked the first charges from the department’s task force on election threats, launched last June. Federal officials say they have dozens of ongoing cases.
The unprecedented harassment of the legion of civil servants who keep democracy functioning has raised fears that many will head for the exits soon.
Demographics play a role: Nearly 35% of local election officials report they are eligible to retire before the next presidential election in 2024, according to a survey by the center at Reed College and The Democracy Fund.
But, chillingly, nearly 1 in 3 local election officials included in a survey last year conducted for the Brennan Center for Justice said they felt unsafe because of their jobs.
Flood of money
The new focus on election administration also has transformed once-obscure state elections into high-profile, expense races.
In contests for secretary for state in six battleground states — Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada and Wisconsin — contributions to candidates collectively are three times higher than they were at this point in the 2018 election cycle, according to a new analysis from the liberal-leaning Brennan Center.
Fredreka has previously reported on the record-breaking sums flowing to outside groups working to shape who runs elections.
More than half the states will pick new secretaries of state this year.
In several, candidates who have questioned the 2020 election results are running for the top election jobs in their states. Former President Donald Trump has endorsed contenders in three states: Michigan, Georgia and Arizona.
This week, another Trump supporter announced her candidacy to become Colorado secretary of state: embattled Mesa County clerk Tina Peters. The Republican has been under investigation by the FBI and others for her alleged involvement in a security breach of the Mesa County election system last year.
You need to read
- CNN’s recent poll with this alarming finding: An increasing number of Americans lack confidence that elections will reflect the will of the people.
- Our stories on the widespread confusion about Texas’ new voting law, ahead of the March 1 primary. One voter described to Fredreka her three attempts to nab a mail-in ballot.
- CNN justice writer Tierney Sneed’s smart look at what the Supreme Court’s recent decision in an Alabama redistricting case could mean for Black political power.
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