Madison, Wis. ( Associated Press) — Meeting place? A mystery. Agenda? not public. name tags? Take them off in public.
Even one of the main social events – Trivia Night – will take place at an undisclosed location. This was no meeting of spies or undercover law enforcement agents. Instead, these were security protocols for a gathering of US state election bureaucrats this week in Madison, Wisconsin.
While the hush-hush measures may seem a bit extreme, they were placed against election activists because of very real threats, which have been on the rise since the 2020 presidential election as former President Donald Trump continues to promote lies. That widespread fraud got him re-elected.
Security increased at meetings of government officials after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, “but not where the agenda is kept secret,” said Kevin Kennedy, Wisconsin’s top executive for nearly four decades before retiring in 2016. was the election officer. He has attended meetings of the National Association of State Election Directors for more than 30 years and says it is disturbing that otherwise anonymous election workers are now being targeted.
“It’s on a different level, and it’s a reflection of the times and it’s unfortunate,” he said.
State and local election officials became the target To those who are upset by the loss of Trump and who believe any unfounded conspiracy theories Many have retired or left about rigged elections As a result, employee concerns are increasing in some offices.
Three men have been charged by federal prosecutors, one of whom pleaded guilty last month. In that case, Colorado Secretary of State Jenna Griswold was the subject of several threatening posts on social media.
Robert Heberle, deputy chief of the Justice Department’s Public Integrity Division, recently told state election officials that dozens of cases are still under investigation and more trials are expected.
Griswold, a Democrat who has received multiple death threats since the 2020 election, traveled in private security to the National Association of Secretaries of State conference earlier this summer in Louisiana.
In a statement to the Associated Press, Griswold said she would not fear threats and said a new state law helped her increase protections for election workers at all levels.
“We cannot allow violent threats to secretaries of state and election workers become an accepted norm in the United States,” she said.
Maria Benson, the group’s communications director, said organizers of the two-year-old secretaries of state meeting have been beefing up security measures since the 2020 election. That includes coordinating with law enforcement agencies before and during conferences, he said.
At the group’s summer meeting in Baton Rouge earlier this month, local law enforcement officers were visible in the hotel lobby and meeting areas where the conference was being held. The members of the media were instructed to keep their credentials visible in the meeting area.
It is not just election officials who are commanding tight security during their meetings.
When the National Governors Association met earlier this month In Portland, Maine, security was the highest in the state in decades.
Heavy law enforcement presence included security details including city police, state police and soldiers from other states. Police in plain clothes roamed the program and additional officers were kept out of sight when needed.
The increased security presence came as protesters gathered to protest new abortion restrictions in states such as Arkansas, with outgoing association president and current government Asa Hutchinson, a Republican.
The security plan, which had been in the works for months, also included police K-9 units and patrol boats in the port.
“We’re in different times right now,” said Shannon Moss, a spokeswoman for the Maine Department of Public Safety. “Look at the recent incidents in our country – mass shootings, violent and disruptive protests, a divisive political climate. Law enforcement has to be prepared to deal with these types of potential security threats.”
There were no protesters outside the Assembly of Election Administrators in Wisconsin this week, but threats of violence against election workers have become so widespread that the group was not taking any security risks.
The exact location meeting – which ended just a block away from the state capitol – was not revealed to the reporters who had registered to cover it until four days before the event began. There were no signs in the hotel announcing the meeting. And details of the agenda to discuss topics such as “understanding and preventing internal threats” were not given until the start of the meeting.
Amy Cohen, executive director of the state election group, warned 170 registered attendees from 33 states to wear their name tags to the event but to take them off when they left and walked into town.
“Don’t advertise who you are and exactly why you are here,” she said.
Cohen said meeting organizers coordinated with federal, state and local law enforcement for the event. He encouraged attendees to report any suspicious activity they saw, and hotel staff were trained to remain vigilant.
She said the association did not live-stream any of the panels nor posted any messages on its Twitter account during the gathering, although there were no social media restrictions for those who attended.
“Please think about what you post and remember that some people in this room are dealing with serious security concerns and we have to be respectful to keep everyone safe,” Cohen said at the start of the gathering.
Judd Choet, Colorado’s state election director for the past 13 years, has attended the Wisconsin event and said he was surprised at the level of rancor and hostility toward election workers. He said that many attacks are being done by people who have little knowledge about the process of elections.
“We were like a sleepy part of the government, and we are no longer,” he said.
Associated Press writer Christina A. Cassidy in Atlanta; and David Sharp and Patrick Whittle in Portland, Maine, contributed to this report.