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We Bet Democracy Would Work Better If Election Officials Didn't Fear Being Murdered
Sadly, this is who we are.
Until 2020, working in state elections offices tended to be a job for nerds who love doing good government, a matter of organization and administration and all sorts of basic competence that those of us with ADHD look at with wonder. It was one of those government jobs that seldom got much attention as long as the votes were counted and there weren't long lines at the polls. A good job for technocrats, though perhaps not quite as boring as being a comptroller or an actuary. And people who volunteered to work the polls and count the votes were generally treated as public-spirited folks doing their Norman Rockwell best to make sure democracy runs smoothly.
Ah, but that was before Donald Trump and the craziest fringe elements on the Right started insisting that elections are rigged, even maybe in places Trump won, because that's just how deep the conspiracy goes. So election workers just doing their jobs might find themselves getting constant death threats because the Gateway Pundit decided to name them and accuse them of stealing the election for Joe Biden.
Yesterday, election officials testified to a Senate Rules Committee hearing on the threats they and their families have received for the crime of running clean elections. It's pretty ugly stuff, as seen in these clips collected for last night's "Rachel Maddow Show" on MSNBC.
Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, who's running for governor, said that orange jumpsuits had been mailed to her office, and that armed protesters had showed up outside her home, just to make clear that they knew where she lives. As HuffPost details, she said the protesters chanted, Warriors -like, "Katie come out and play! We're watching you!" Hobbes said that while she expected constituents might be unhappy with her,
I never expected that holding this office would result in far-Right trolls threatening my children, threatening my husband's employment at a children's hospital or calling my office saying I deserve to die and asking, "What is she wearing today, so she'll be easy to get."
Al Schmidt, a Republican who serves on the city commission and on the Philadelphia Board of Elections, testified that he'd received messages like "Tell the truth or your three kids will be fatally shot," which included the children's names, his home address, and a photo of his home, all reconnaissance-like because these guys love pretending they're special ops commandos. Another email read "RINO stole election, we steal lives," and still another threat to his family said "Cops can't help you. heads on spikes, treasonous Schmidts."
Very fine people, those Trump supporters. They had to threaten elections officials, because after all that's what you do with traitors.
Since last year's election, the number of volunteers who say they won't work the polls has increased, and as CNN notes,
Nearly one in three local election workers said they felt unsafe because of their jobs, according to an April survey on behalf of the Brennan Center for Justice , with about 17% of those who responded saying they had received threats.
CNN also interviewed several election administrators who have faced threats, including Hobbs, who said one man left messages on her office voicemail repeatedly saying "Die you bitch, die! Die you bitch, die!" and another patriot who said "I am a hunter — and I think you should be hunted. You will never be safe in Arizona again."
Colorado Secretary of State Jena Griswold pissed off MyPillow fans by investigating would-be election ratfucker Tina Peters , the county clerk of Mesa County. Peters has since been removed from any election duties after evidence indicated she'd been part of a scheme to leak password-protected election machine hard drives to fellow Q-Anon crazies. For keeping Colorado elections clean, Griswold has received her own threats, including a tweet reading "Bullet. That is a six letter word for you," CNN reports:
An email sent to her office over the summer read: "I'm really jonzing to see your purple face after you've been hanged."
Asked by CNN last week if she feels safe in her job and going about her days, Griswold paused for nearly 30 seconds before answering.
"I take these threats very seriously," she finally said, choosing her words carefully. "It's absolutely getting worse," she added.
CNN also notes that several elections officials it contacted for the story begged off commenting, either because they'd been advised not to by security experts, because it might reveal vulnerabilities to people stalking them, or because they just found talking about it publicly too traumatizing.
Worse, CNN notes that until last year's election and the increasingly rabid behavior of Trumpers, elections officials at all levels just weren't seen as facing any threats, so state and local law enforcement, and state governments, have often been unprepared or unwilling to provide security, except sometimes for a brief period after a specific threat. And our good friend the First Amendment has also complicated matters, since courts have held that only the most specific threats can be prosecuted:
CNN notes that spills over into how law enforcement assesses threats.
[A] person fantasizing about how great it would be to see an official get hurt is seen as protected under free speech, and isn't the same as a person laying out a specific threat for how and when to hurt an official. That's not much comfort to Griswold. "I realize that most of it is probably bluster, but what's concerning is the one time it's not," she said.
It also seems like a dubious distinction when considering whether to provide police protection to an official: Sure, you can't arrest someone for a nonspecific wish of harm to an official, but you can certainly take action to prevent the official from being harmed.
The Justice Department, CNN reports, is at least taking the threat seriously, and has set up a task force aimed at assessing and improving security for elections officials, although that effort is just getting underway this year, because why would the previous administration have wanted local officials to be safe from threats and intimidation?
Yesterday's hearing also highlighted the need to pass the Freedom to Vote Act, which in addition to setting national minimum standards to protect the vote also includes provisions making it a federal crime to threaten elections officials or to publish personal information on their families in an attempt to threaten or intimidate the officials. In an interview with Maddow last night, Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minnesota) said that once the Build Back Better reconciliation bill is completed, the next goal has to be passing the Freedom to Vote Act, even if that means changing the filibuster.
Or we could just let things keep going as they are, until nonpartisan election officials are all driven from their jobs and elections are run by QAnon.
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