US faces shortage of election workers ahead of midterms due to rising threats
Officials warn that the United States is facing a shortage of poll workers ahead of November’s midterm elections due to an increase in threats against those carrying out such work that experts link to false allegations of fraud. widespread in the 2020 elections.
In a interview last monthKim Wyman, senior election security officer at the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), said that as a result of these threats, 1 in 3 election officials and poll workers left their posts out of fear for their safety, and state officials have difficulty hiring for such positions.
Experts attribute this problem to inflammatory rhetoric stemming from unsubstantiated claims that the 2020 presidential election was rigged and election officials were complicit.
“Our elections have become very contentious,” said Jamil Jaffer, founder and executive director of the National Security Institute at George Mason University’s Antonin Scalia School of Law.
Jaffer said the country is witnessing a situation where disputes between political parties are now affecting the work of election workers, many of whom are retirees who volunteer their time to count votes.
âInstead of upholding that civic duty, now people are venting their political frustrations and anger on these election workers,â Jaffer said. “And that’s a real problem.”
Earlier this year, the Brennan Center for Justice published a survey on the threats faced by local election officials.
The poll found that one in six election officials said they had been threatened because of their work, and 77% of those polled said they felt such threats had increased in recent years.
Lawrence Norden, senior director of elections and government program at the Brennan Center, said these threats can range from verbal abuse and online harassment on social media to death threats over the phone or in the mail. He added that in some cases, election workers have seen their homes invaded and their cars damaged.
The survey also found that 20% of election officials plan to leave their jobs before the 2024 election, with a third of this group âciting attacks by political leaders on a system they know is fair and honest as one of their main reasons for leaving. .â
Two-thirds of election officials surveyed said they are concerned that politicians are trying to interfere in the way they carry out their work in the upcoming election.
Norden added that the exodus is also partly because election workers feel there is a lack of political response from the government to the threats they face.
The Brennan Center survey found nearly 80% of election officials felt the federal government was doing nothing or not doing enough to address the problem.
“It’s a big deal,” Norden said.
“One thing we can do is make sure people who work in elections feel supported and I don’t think we’ve done a good job of that, whether it’s federal or state,” did he declare. added.
Federal officials have taken action on the issue: The Justice Department created a special task force last year to address growing threats against election workers, which the task force’s head, Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco, called it a “threat to democracy” in a statement announcing the program.
In August, the working group informed hundreds of election workers and officials on his work, reporting that he reviewed more than 1,000 reported threats and found that 11% merited a federal criminal investigation. Election workers working in tightly contested states were more likely to receive threats, he reported, with 58% of potentially criminal threats coming from states where the 2020 election results were contested by lawsuits, recounts and audits, like Arizona and Pennsylvania.
The task force said it had indicted four federal cases for such threats and joined another, adding that several state prosecutions had also been filed.
Some state and federal legislators have also recently taken steps to address the issue by introducing and passing legislation to protect workers from threats.
In May, Colorado Governor Jared Polis (D) signed two invoices in law that aim to address insider threats and protect election workers from physical threats and online harassment. One of the laws would make it a crime to threaten election workers or post their personal information online.
âWe want to make sure every vote is counted accurately,â Polis said. “And we also want to make sure that those overseeing elections themselves don’t have to worry about their physical safety.”
California, Maine, Oregon and Vermont also recently passed their own laws protecting election workers from threats and harassment.
This month, Sens. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) introduced similar legislation to address growing threats against election workers.
The bill, titled the Election Workers Protection Act, would provide states with resources to recruit and train election workers and also protect them from intimidation and threats. The legislation would also make it a federal crime to threaten, intimidate or coerce election workers.
âElection workers face a barrage of threats from those who seek to undermine our democracy,â Klobuchar said in a statement.
âWe need to respond to these threats head-on and ensure election workers are able to do their job,â she added.
Before former President Trump entered the political arena in 2015, Norden said that some candidates would sometimes make unfounded allegations of voter fraud, but would not gain popularity as they did during the election. 2020 presidential election.
âIt’s become a lot more mainstream now and it hasn’t been condemned as widely as it would take to mitigate that,â Norden said.
Norden explained that it has always been the case that some people doubt that votes were counted accurately, especially when their preferred candidate loses.
“It’s not new because of Trump,” Norden said.
“What’s new because of Trump is that never before have we had a presidential candidate, well a sitting president, refusing to concede after the election is over and all legal avenues have been exhausted,” he said. he added.
Jaffer added that he wouldn’t blame Trump solely for the country’s polarization, but said the former president’s rhetoric and tone, as well as the response of others, certainly made the situation worse.
“Trump is a symptom of a larger problem that we’ve seen for many years, which is increased polarization on both sides at their extremes,” Jaffer said.
Norden also provided some suggestions on how to deal with threats against election workers. First, he said there should be more prosecutions of individuals who make such threats. He also said the federal government should provide additional grants to state and local governments for safety training.
Finally, he said that there is a need to strengthen and improve the security of electoral buildings, in particular through the installation of surveillance cameras, panic alarm systems and bulletproof electoral offices.
Norden added that although a minority of Americans believe widespread voter fraud took place in the 2020 election, it is still causing great damage and negatively impacting many people, including election workers.
âIt is going to be extremely difficult to maintain free and fair elections if one part of the country refuses to accept the defeat of its preferred candidate and blames the people who are supposed to count the votes,â Norden said.
“It’s their job… [and] if the public can’t accept that, we won’t have a democratic system much longer,â he added.