The democratic process hasn’t been the same since 2020 — and if a rising anti-democracy movement in America makes its way, we may never go back. But in the wake of the unprecedented attacks on those running our elections, state legislators scrambled to enact new laws before the midterms that would give them even more protection.
Legislatures in Colorado, Maine, Vermont and California passed laws this year that make it a crime to threaten or harass election workers, or make it easier to prosecute those who do. In other states, such as Wisconsin, top law enforcement officials are examining their own strategies to pursue such threats, while in states like Nevada, election oversight candidates have pledged to push for similar legislation if it takes office.
Since former President Donald Trump pushed the false claim that the 2020 election was stolen from him, election workers across the country have faced a deluge of harassment targeted for their work.
“There has been a really worrying rise in harassment against election officials and officials,” Gauri Ramachandran, senior advisor for the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center, told TPM.
A Brennan Center poll last March found that one in six election officials had been threatened because of their jobs. Seventy-seven percent of those surveyed say these threats have increased in recent years.
Sometimes the intimidation amounted to a death threat. FEC United, a Colorado-based far-right group, held a meeting over alleged election fraud back in February. That night, an election denier claimed that he had evidence that Colorado Secretary of State Gina Griswold was involved in criminal election conduct. (he did not do).
Then he told an applauding audience, “You know, if you were involved in election fraud, you deserve to be hanged.”
Since then, Secretary Griswold has made a barrage of violent threats, leading her to seek help from the Colorado State Patrol.
“I’ve had an increase in threats over the past year, year and a half because of the big lie,” she told TPM. “Two people have already been arrested, one of whom has been fully prosecuted for threatening my life for being the Secretary of State.”
The harassment became so severe that Secretary Griswold had to step back from her own funds to obtain additional security coverage to supplement what the Colorado State Patrol was able to provide. “Beginning in February, we hired private security,” she said.
The state legislature has since passed the Colorado Official Election Protection Act, to protect election workers who have suffered threats related to the big lie as a result.
Intimidation campaigns prompted lawmakers to pass similar bills in states, including Oregon, Vermont and California, where threats were persistent and vicious. In one example considered by the Oregon legislature, a manager in Medford, Oregon, told Stateline that a threatening message was drawn in large white letters in a parking lot outside her office weeks after the 2020 election: “Vote doesn’t work. Bullets next time.”
Election offices in Maine have experienced high turnover rates in the wake of the 2020 election. The state legislature in April approved a bill that added an election official threat to the state’s criminal code, and required the Secretary of State to report threats to public officials to a legislative committee.
“No local election official should have to worry about violent threats just to do their job,” Representative Bruce White (Democrat of Waterville), who introduced the bill, told TPM.
Ramachandran, of the Brennan Center, spoke with several election workers who have faced threats since the big lie began to spread. In February 2021, she testified before the Oregon State Assembly about the need for more comprehensive legislation to protect poll workers.
She testified that “the threats got so bad in the weeks before and after Election Day that many officials were forced to leave their homes temporarily out of fear for their safety.” “Others have requested round-the-clock police surveillance.”
She noted that the threats expanded to target the families of survey workers, many of whom had to do the same as Griswold: put their own funding for greater security.
“It’s really heartbreaking when you hear these stories,” Ramachandran told TPM. “It is really terrible that people who are doing a public service to all of us have to pay out of their own money just to be safe. Honestly, this is unacceptable.”
The federal government has tried to give polling staff more protection: The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), for example, has issued guidelines on how election workers can enhance their security, and has provided free physical security assessments to offices where officials are. work.
But Ramachandran told TPM that these measures are not enough. “Unfortunately, because they were providing these assessments, a number of election offices found they did not have the money to implement all the recommendations that CISA gives them,” she explained. “Some financial aid from the federal government could be really helpful.”
“I think we’re seeing increased destabilization in the US elections,” said Secretary Griswold. “I hope the violent rhetoric will stop sometime soon, but it probably won’t.”