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Thursday, December 01, 2022

Facing harassment and death threats, some election officials ponder whether to stay

A worker with the Detroit Department of Elections inspects an absentee ballot at the Central Counting Board in the TCF Cen...

BATON ROUGE, LA ( Associated Press) — After polls closed in the New Mexico primaries last month, a worker returning ballots and other election materials to the secretary’s office in Santa Fe was followed by a partisan election observer driving so close that mere centimeters separated their bumpers.

The researcher was so shaken by the ordeal that she said she might not return for the upcoming November election, according to Santa Fe County Secretary Katharine Clark.

The incident is just one of many where election officials and workers have felt threatened since the 2020 presidential election and false claims that it was stolen from former President Donald Trump. A federal effort to investigate these threats has so far yielded three lawsuits since it was launched a year ago.

TO SEE: Election workers continue to face threats after Trump’s false election claims

Meanwhile, the harassment and death threats have not stopped against those who objected to the false allegations. The threats contributed to an exodus of election officials across the country, particularly at the local level, and made it even more difficult to recruit poll workers – adding to the challenges of holding smooth elections in the fall.

“I’m a Republican recorder living in a Republican county where the candidate they wanted to win won 2-1 in this county and is still suffering, as is my team,” said Leslie Hoffman, the top election official. in Yavapai County, Arizona.

Hoffman announced last week that he was resigning to take another job, saying his decision was motivated in large part by “the evil we deal with”. Hoffman said the county election director left for the same reasons.

On Friday, a US Department of Justice official was scheduled to update state election officials gathered in Louisiana for their summer conference on the task force’s work announced in June 2021.

Three men have been charged by federal prosecutors with one pleading guilty last month. In this case, the Colorado Secretary of State was the target of several threatening posts on social media.

“Do you feel safe?” said one of the threats, according to court documents. “You should not.”

Kenneth Polite, assistant attorney general for the department’s criminal division, said federal investigators are working on each report to determine which cases can be successfully prosecuted, noting challenges in attributing threats often made anonymously, and evaluating protections from freedom of expression. He said additional processes are expected.

TO SEE: Trump’s False Election Claims Are ‘Red Meat’ for Extremist Groups

“The department is committed to protecting our electoral community from violence and threats of violence,” Polite said in a statement. “These are ordinary people from across the political spectrum who play a vital democratic role for our nation, often with little recognition or support.”

In the task force’s first six months, members conducted more than 20 training and outreach events on election threats with state, local, and federal officials, as well as election officials and social media companies.

A survey released earlier this year by the Brennan Center for Justice at the NYU School of Law found that one in three election officials knew someone who had left their job in part because of threats and intimidation, and that one in six had experienced threats personally. .

Federal and state election officials and Trump’s own attorney general said there was no credible evidence the election was tarnished. The former president’s fraud allegations have also been roundly rejected by the courts, including Trump-appointed judges.

Experts said it is critical that those who make threats are held accountable to prevent others from thinking they can do the same.

“The steps that the task force took, election officials are grateful. But there is absolutely more to be done,” said Liz Howard, a former Virginia state election official now at the Brennan Center.

Among the recommendations the Brennan Center has made is expanding the task force to include state and local law enforcement agencies that are typically an election official’s first contact.

A group of former and current election officials and law enforcement officials recently formed the Committee for Safe and Secure Elections, which plans to provide guidance and training to prevent and respond to threats and violence against election officials.

Last month, the US Election Assistance Commission – which distributes federal funds to election offices – said its funding could be used to protect election officials from threats. Legislation was also sought at the state and federal levels to increase penalties for those targeting election workers.

In Colorado, lawmakers passed a bill that would make it a misdemeanor to disclose an election official’s personal information online with the intent of threatening him or his family.

TO SEE: Former Georgia election official says false election claims ‘affected her life in major ways’

On Capitol Hill, Senator Amy Klobuchar, a Democrat from Minnesota, held a hearing last year highlighting the threats and calling for federal protections for election workers. Klobuchar and other Senate Democrats sent a letter asking the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI to issue a joint public service announcement to local law enforcement agencies to “make sure they are aware of the recent increase in these threats against election officials and federal officials.” resources to denounce and fight them”.

Back in Santa Fe, New Mexico, Clark said anxiety remains high among his team. Employees were trained in active shooter situations, requested the installation of bulletproof glass and GPS tracking during the transport of the ballot boxes.

While she is concerned for her safety, she says she is not ready to give up or change careers, underscoring her responsibility to the voters who elected her.

“My father served in the military, my grandfather served in the military,” Clark said. “I still don’t feel like I’m bad enough to feel like my public service is too much.”

Associated Press writers Bob Christie in Phoenix and Morgan Lee in Santa Fe, New Mexico contributed to this report.

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