“A threat to an election official, worker or volunteer is a threat to public safety and democracy. ” — Assistant Attorney General Kenneth A. Polite, speaking Jan. 1 on behalf of the Election Threats Task Force.
I first learned of the threats against our local election officials during the fall 2021 gubernatorial recall election. Local election officials revealed during a Women’s League educational program constituents that their staff had received a large number of harassing phone calls.
Unfortunately, their reports represent a national pattern of harassment and threats of violence against government officials and election workers.
Recently, a Nevada County judge ruled there was ‘clear and compelling evidence’ that a local resident ‘engaged in unlawful violence or made a credible threat of violence’ against election officials. communities in our county during incidents at the Rood Center.
According to The Union, Nicholas Poole, the county’s risk manager, briefed the office of elections on the heightened risk and growing threats received by a number of county officials over the past two years.
The bipartisan Brennan Center for Justice released a study last year that found nearly one in three election officials felt unsafe at their job and one in five cited threats to their life as a work-related concern.
According to Elizabeth Howard, one of the study’s authors, “It’s not just numbers; they are people. We’ve heard so many personal stories of election officials having to pack duffel bags for their children, leave their homes, or pay for extra security measures at their personal homes.
In 2021, a Reuters investigation revealed 102 threats of violence or death against election officials.
Adding to the threat are recent election laws passed in a number of states that impose stiff penalties on officials who violate these laws. For example, a new law in Iowa authorizes a fine of up to $10,000 for election officials who commit a technical violation. A new Texas law allows for a $1,000 fine and criminal penalty.
Lawrence Norden, another of the Brennan study authors, says, “Misinformation is at the root of all of this. You wouldn’t want lawmakers getting away with criminalizing the conduct of election officials for minor offences. You wouldn’t have a justification for most voter suppression laws if it weren’t for the misinformation. So the lies about elections, what election officials are doing, and how elections are run are the basis of everything we see.
The solutions to these problems are not easy, but there are ways to better protect our government officials: social media companies can take on more responsibility for ensuring election messages are accurate; states must make it a priority to pass laws that protect election workers and provide them with resources to enable them to do their job safely; Congress should enact the Freedom to Vote Act, which protects public officials from partisan attacks and subversion.
Our Nevada County elections were models of integrity and inclusiveness, and we must support our election officials as they navigate an increasingly partisan electoral process.
Our democracy cannot survive if we cannot protect those who guarantee free and fair elections. Please tell elected officials at all levels of government that they must provide more support to election officials and pass laws to protect them.
Fran Cole is the president of the Western Nevada County League of Women Voters. She lives in Smartsville.