Testimonials of threats are well known to election workers

Testimonials of threats are well known to election workers

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) – This week’s thrilling testimony in Congress about threats to local election officials after the 2020 presidential election had an enthusiastic audience far beyond Washington – foreign ministers and election officials across the United States who they said the stories could easily be their own.

Death threats, harassment and baseless allegations have driven local election officials from office, unprecedented attacks that many say threaten not only themselves but American democracy itself.

One day after the local polling station in Medford, Oregon, validated the results of the 2020 election, workers found a spray-painted message in their parking lot: “Vote Don’t Work. Next Time Bullets.”

“We spent the rest of the day more or less shocked that this happened here,” Jackson County Sheriff Chris Walker testified during a hearing earlier this year on state election protection law. “The noise that was happening all over the country had hit the house.”

At Tuesday’s hearing in the House of Commons that investigated the role of President Donald Trump in the January 6, 2021 uprising in the US Capitol, a mother and daughter who were election officials in Georgia brought the sense of danger to complete relief. They testified that they were afraid to even say their names in public, after Trump unjustly accused them of voter fraud.

“There were a lot of death threats,” said Wandrea “Shaye” Moss, the daughter.

Georgia has been at the center of threats for election officials as Trump and his allies challenged his defeat to Joe Biden and as Trump campaigned with the secretary of state to “find” enough votes to say he had won.

In Gwinnett County, northeast of Atlanta, a Dominion Voting Systems contract worker faced death threats after someone filmed him transferring a report to a county computer. The widely circulated internet posts falsely claimed that the young man was manipulating the election data.

That prompted Gabriel Sterling, Georgia’s foreign affairs chief of staff, to vent his anger against violent threats and false rhetoric at a press conference in December 2020, at a time when Tuesday.

Other misconceptions targeted the county county, including allegations that an electronics recycling truck that dumped surplus equipment outside a county office was shredding election hard drives.

The “exhaustion” of this political environment combined with the coronavirus pandemic and a new electoral system has led more than half of Gwinnett County’s permanent staff to resign after the 2020 election, said election observer Zach Manifold.

When he was done, he said, “I think everyone took a deep breath and a lot of people said, ‘Yeah, I just do not think I can do that anymore.’

He said the department has been rebuilt, but does not have the institutional knowledge for the elections it once had.

Similar stories exist throughout the country.

In Northern California Nevada, a politically mixed area at the foot of the Sierra East Sacramento, a judge agreed to issue restraining orders earlier this year against residents who had previously been accused of security at the county’s polling station. to recall members of the supervisory board.

Crystal Roascio, the election administrator in Carbon County, Montana, explained why the county stepped up electoral security during the June 7 state qualifiers.

“I have terrified election judges for their safety and I have resigned from being a judge for that,” Roascio said in an email.

A survey published in March by the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University Law School found that one in three election officials knew someone who had resigned in part because of threats and intimidation, and that one in six had experienced personal threats.

Citing the potential impact on democracy, the US Department of Justice set up a working group almost a year ago to address the growing threats against election officials. The Deputy Director of Public Integrity, John Keller, described it in an email to the Associated Press as a “deeply worrying trend.”

The group’s first prosecutions came in January with the arrest of a Texas man accused of posting death threats against Georgia election officials and a Nevada man for threatening to kill the secretary of state’s office. The latest calls reportedly included: “I hope your children are harassed. You will all die (subversively). “

Last week, a 42-year-old Lincoln from Nebraska pleaded guilty to making multiple threatening posts on Instagram last year targeting the Colorado Secretary of State.

“Do you feel safe?” said Travis Ford, according to court documents. “It should not”.

Secretary of State Jenna Griswald said those making the threats were trying to prevent her and others from doing their job to protect fair and free elections.

“They will not stop us. “They will not stop me,” Griswold said in an interview. “It just strengthens my determination.”

The U.S. Electoral Assistance Committee earlier this month unanimously voted to extend the use of its funding to protect election workers and officials from threats. In the midst of the barrage, some in Congress are also seeking solutions.

Aside from at least a dozen bills introduced or passed at the state level, legislation introduced in Congress last year by Democrats would make it a federal crime for anyone to intimidate or threaten an employee in the election. It was part of a larger Democrat-led campaign for the vote that cleared the House of Representatives, but was later interrupted by a filmmaker in the Senate. A separate bill to protect workers in elections and polls was introduced in February.

Illegal election threats would cover cases such as some in Arizona, where officials since 2020 have made threatening phone calls and messages that escalated during a party election check in the state’s largest county.

Maricopa County recorder Stephen Richer received voicemails calling him a “scum” and a “traitor”, threatening to arrest civilians and telling him he would burn in hell.

One caller said he would “never make it” at the “next small board meeting” if he was giving another problem to Republican-backed lawmakers in control.

Richer said he referred some of the messages to law enforcement and deleted his Facebook account when people started using him to find and harass his wife.

Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson is well aware of these types of threats. He was among the election officials who were personally threatened after the spread of Trump’s false allegations of widespread electoral fraud.

In a statement issued after the congressional hearing on Tuesday, he said that “election officials are registering for the job because they care about democracy.” But she, her staff, and many of the hundreds of local officials across Michigan have been targeted, resulting in “a pervasive sense of anxiety and terror that permeates our daily lives and the lives of our families.”


Associated Press writers Christina A. Cassidy in Atlanta and Ali Swenson in New York contributed to this report.

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