COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — This week’s gripping testimony to Congress about threats to local election officials following the 2020 presidential election drew large audiences outside Washington — secretaries of state and election clerks across the United States said that these stories could easily become their own.
death threats, harassment and baseless allegation Local election officials have been ousted from their jobs in unprecedented attacks that many say threaten not only themselves, but American democracy itself.
A day after the local elections office in Medford, Ore., certified the results of the 2020 election, workers found a spray-painted message in their parking lot: “Vote not valid. Next bullet.”
“We’re in shock for the rest of the year by what’s going on here,” Jackson County Clerk Chris Walker testified at a state legislative hearing on protecting election workers earlier this year. The noise has hit the home.”
exist Tuesday’s hearing House committee investigates President Donald Trump’s role in riots at U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021 mother and daughter Georgia’s election workers have made the sense of danger significantly lessened. They testified that they were even afraid to say their names publicly after Trump falsely accused them of voter fraud.
“There were a lot of threats that wanted me to die,” said daughter Wandrea “Shaye” Moss.
Georgia is a threat center for election officials as Trump and his allies challenge Joe Biden to his loss there and Trump launches a campaign stress exercise Let the Secretary of State “find” enough votes to say he won.
In Gwinnett County, northeast of Atlanta, a Dominion Voting Systems contract worker faced death threats after someone filmed him transmitting reports to county computers. A widely shared online post falsely claimed the young man was manipulating election data.
That led Gabriel Sterling, chief operating officer of the Georgia Secretary of State’s office, to angrily blast threats of violence and false statements during a December 2020 news conference, he recalled during a congressional hearing on Tuesday.
Other misinformation has targeted suburban counties, including claims that an electronics recycling truck disposing of leftover equipment outside county offices is smashing election hard drives.
Election supervisor Zach Manifold said the “weariness” of this political environment, combined with the coronavirus pandemic and the new voting system, has led to the resignation of more than half of Gwinnett County’s permanent election workers after the 2020 election.
After it was over, he said, “I think they all took a deep breath and a lot of people said, ‘Yeah, I don’t think I can do this anymore.'”
He said the department had been rebuilt but lacked the institutional knowledge about elections it once had.
Similar stories can be found all over the country.
In Northern California’s Nevada County, a politically mixed area in the Sierra foothills east of Sacramento, a judge earlier this year agreed to issue a restraining order against residents who had filed security charges with the county’s election office, asking to update their recalls The efforts of the members of the Supervisory Board.
Crystal Roacio, election administrator for Carbon County, Montana, explained why the county stepped up election security during the June 7 primary.
“I made election judges fear for their safety, even resigning as a judge,” Roacio said in an email.
A survey released in March by the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law found that one in three election officials knew someone who left was due in part to threats and intimidation, and one in six experienced threats first-hand.
Nearly a year ago, the Justice Department launched a task force to address the growing threat to election officials, citing the potential impact on democracy. John Keller, principal deputy director of the Public Integrity Section, described it as a “deeply disturbing trend” in an email to The Associated Press.
The group’s first indictment came in January with the arrest of a Texas man accused of making death threats to Georgia election officials and a Nevada man making death threats to the state secretary of state’s office. The latter’s calls allegedly included: “I want your children to be molested. You will all (expletive) die.”
Last week, a 42-year-old Lincoln, Nebraska man admitted to posting multiple threatening Instagram posts last year aimed at Colorado’s secretary of state.
“Do you feel safe?” Travis Ford said, according to court documents. “You shouldn’t.”
Secretary of State Jena Griswold said those who made the threats were trying to block her and others’ efforts to protect fair and free elections.
“We’re not going to be blocked. I’m not going to be blocked,” Griswold said in an interview. “It will only further strengthen my resolve.”
The U.S. Election Assistance Commission voted unanimously earlier this month to expand the use of its funds to protect election workers and officials from threats. Amid the barrage, some in Congress are also looking for a solution.
Except for at least a dozen Bills introduced or passed at the state level, legislation introduced by Democrats in Congress last year would make it a federal crime for anyone to intimidate or threaten election workers. It’s part of a broader Democratic-led effort to vote for voting rights that cleared the House of Representatives but was then blocked by Senate obstruction. A separate bill to protect election and polling workers was introduced in February.
The election outlaw threat will cover some cases in Arizona, where state officials have received escalating threatening calls and messages since 2020 during partisan audits of election results in the state’s largest county.
Maricopa County Recorder Stephen Richer receives swearing voicemails, calls him a “scum” and a “traitor,” threatens citizens with arrest, and tells him he’ll be burned in hell .
One caller told him he would “never be able to attend” his “next mini-board meeting” if he caused further trouble for the Republican-backed contractor performing the audit.
When people started using his Facebook account to find and harass his wife, Richer said, he turned over some of that information to law enforcement and deleted his Facebook account.
Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson knows these types of threats well. She was among election officials after Trump spread his false claims about widespread election fraud.
In a statement released after a congressional hearing on Tuesday, she said election workers signed up for the job because they care about democracy. But she, her staff, and many of Michigan’s hundreds of local officials were targeted, leading to “a pervasive sense of anxiety and fear that permeates our everyday and family lives.”
Associated Press writers Christina A. Cassidy in Atlanta and Ali Swenson in New York contributed to this report.