Federal efforts to increase protections for poll workers fail – Boston News, Weather, Sports

ATLANTA (AP) — Federal proposals that would have significantly increased security funding for polling stations and increased penalties for threatening their employees stalled this year, forcing state officials to turn to their lawmakers for support.

The massive budget bill, passed by Congress Friday, will give states $75 million in election security grants, an amount well short of what many officials had been asking for since 2020, state and local poll officials have been grappling with harassment and even Death threats were faced presidential election. They were also disappointed that proposals to make such threats a federal crime with stiffer penalties fizzled.

Without federal action, several state elections officials – many of whom have faced a relentless wave of attacks over the past two years – say they plan to urge their lawmakers to increase protections for themselves, their employees and those who conduct local elections to increase. Some of them have faced angry protesters in public and even outside their homes, motivated by former President Donald Trump’s false claims that his re-election was stolen.

“We have to take care of the people who work elections,” Cisco Aguilar said shortly after winning his midterms race to become Nevada’s next secretary of state. “They shouldn’t feel intimidated or harassed at the end of the day walking to the car.” He added, “We’ve got to have their back.”

Aguilar, a Democrat, said he plans to work with Nevada lawmakers to pass legislation making it a crime to harass or intimidate a poll worker or volunteer. While Democrats retained control of the state Legislature, Republican Joe Lombardo was elected governor, and his office declined to say if he would support such an effort.

In Georgia, Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, who faced an onslaught of threats as he withstood pressure from Trump to “find” enough votes to nullify President Joe Biden’s victory in the state, said he would also welcome if penalties were increased for those who threaten poll workers. It’s not clear if that will be a priority for the Legislature, where Republicans control both houses.

Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, a Democrat, has said she plans to ask the newly-elected Democratic majority in the legislature to allocate $100 million annually to local polling stations after officials complained of underfunding. She also wants to make it a crime to threaten poll workers and increase penalties for those who spread misinformation, particularly about voting rights.

She said tactics used in the 2020 election could be tried again in the next presidential election unless lawmakers take tougher countermeasures.

“We are trying to reverse the tide of misinformation and violence that has seeped into our political discourse,” said Jake Rollow, a Michigan State Department spokesman. “We have to move on from that era, both in Michigan and as a country, because it’s not safe. It’s not what America is about.”

Conspiracy theories surrounding the 2020 election prompted a wave of threats and harassment against state and local election officials that continues two years later. The threats have contributed to an exodus of election officials across the country, particularly at the local level, and raised concerns about a loss of expertise in conducting elections heading into the 2024 presidential cycle.

The threats have drawn the attention of federal law enforcement agencies, who established a task force in mid-2021 to review cases for possible prosecution. Last October, one of the cases resulted in an 18-month prison sentence for a Nebraska man who made online threats against Colorado’s top election official. A federal grand jury on December 14 indicted an Ohio man for recently making threats against an official in the Arizona Secretary of State’s office.

Overall, however, the number of prosecutions remains low because federal agencies must meet a legal standard of demonstrating a “serious intent to commit an unlawful act of violence,” which can pose a challenge.

Experts say it’s crucial that those who issue threats are held accountable and that strong protections are in place to ward off future attacks. A 2021 survey of local election officials commissioned by the Brennan Center for Justice found that one in three felt unsafe about their job and one in six said they had been threatened.

“Many have cited this as a major reason they are leaving office,” said Liz Howard, a former Virginia state election official who is now with the Brennan Center. “We don’t have to guess why — they tell us.”

Various proposals put forward by Democratic Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Jon Ossoff and Republican Sen. Susan Collins to improve protection did not garner enough support to pass the chamber and were not in the $1.7 trillion -Government Expenditure Bill included. Klobuchar said she will continue to seek money for polling stations, noting that she and Republican Senator Roy Blunt have pushed to allow polling officials to use previous federal funding for security improvements.

Senator Alex Padilla, a Democrat who previously served as California Secretary of State, called poll workers the “backbone of our democracy” and said more needs to be done to ensure their safety.

“Following the escalating attacks on our voting institutions, I am disappointed that my fellow Republicans did not come to the table this year to protect thousands of poll workers who are protecting our democracy,” he said in a statement.

Some states have acted on their own. Since 2020, California, Colorado and Maine have passed laws increasing protections for poll workers. In California, this meant they could keep their home address private.

In Colorado, Secretary of State Jena Griswold worked with state legislators on a piece of legislation known as the Election Official Protection Act, which establishes election officials as a protected class against doxing — posting someone’s personal information online. It makes the practice a misdemeanor and allows poll workers to remove their personal information from online records. It also makes threatening an election official a crime under state law.

“Congress must act to protect election officials and workers who are critical to conducting free and fair elections,” Griswold said. “But in the absence of federal action, the states should pass legislation like the Election Official Protection Act.”


Associated Press writer Mary Clare Jalonick in Washington and Gabe Stern in Reno, Nevada contributed to this report.

(Copyright (c) 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, transcribed or redistributed.)

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https://whdh.com/news/federal-effort-to-boost-election-worker-protections-fizzles/ Federal efforts to increase protections for poll workers fail – Boston News, Weather, Sports

Sarah Y. Kim

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