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Threats sound familiar to campaign workers

Columbus, Ohio – This week’s gripping testimony before Congress about threats against local poll officials following the 2020 presidential election had an enthusiastic audience well beyond Washington — secretaries of state and poll officials across the US, who said the stories could easily have been their own.

Death threats, harassment, etc unfounded allegations have driven local election officials from their jobs, unprecedented attacks that many say threaten not only themselves but American democracy itself.

A day after the local elections office in Medford, Oregon, confirmed the results of the 2020 election, workers found a message spray-painted in their parking lot: “Voting isn’t working. Bullets next time.”

“We spent the rest of the day pretty shocked that this had happened,” Jackson County Clerk Chris Walker testified during a hearing earlier this year on state laws protecting poll workers. “The noise that’s happening across the country hit us.”

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at hearing on Tuesday of the House Committee investigating President Donald Trump’s role in the January 6, 2021 U.S. Capitol riot, a mother and daughter the election workers in Georgia brought out the sense of danger clearly. They said they were afraid to even use their names publicly after Trump falsely accused them of voter fraud.

“There were a lot of threats to wish me dead,” said Wandrea “Shaye” Moss, the daughter.

Georgia was a center of threats to poll officials as Trump and his allies questioned his loss there to Joe Biden and as Trump stepped in print campaign on the Secretary of State to “find” enough votes to say he won.

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In Gwinnett County, northeast of Atlanta, a Dominion Voting Systems contract worker faced death threats after someone recorded video of him sending a report to a county computer. Widespread online posts falsely claimed that the young man had tampered with election data.

That prompted Gabriel Sterling, the chief operating officer of the Georgia Secretary of State, to angrily crack down on the violent threats and false rhetoric in a December 2020 news conference, a moment he recalled during Tuesday’s congressional hearing.

Other misinformation targeted the suburban district, including claims that an electronics recycling truck dumping surplus equipment outside a district office was shredding voting hard drives.

The “exhaustion” of that political environment, coupled with the coronavirus pandemic and a new voting system, caused more than half of Gwinnett County’s permanent voting staff to resign after the 2020 election, Elections Superintendent Zach Manifold said.

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After it was over, he said, “I think they all just took a deep breath and a lot of people were like, ‘Yeah, I just don’t think I can do this anymore.'”

He said the department has been rebuilt but lacks the institutional knowledge of elections that it once had.

Similar stories can be found across the country.

In Northern California’s Nevada County, a politically mixed region in the Sierra foothills east of Sacramento, earlier this year a judge agreed to issue restraining orders on residents who stormed past security into the county’s polling station, demanding one Updating their efforts to remove members of the Board of Directors.

Crystal Roascio, the Carbon County, Montana, election administrator, explained why the county was stepping up poll security during the June 7 primary.

“I have electoral judges who fear for their safety and some have even stopped being judges,” Roascio said in an email.

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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 know someone who left their job in part because of threats and intimidation, and one in six have experienced threats themselves.

Noting the potential impact on democracy, the US Department of Justice launched a task force nearly a year ago to deal with mounting threats against election officials. Deputy Public Integrity Director John Keller described this as a “deeply disturbing trend” in an email to The Associated Press.

The group’s first prosecution came in January with the arrests of a Texas man accused of making death threats against a Georgia election official and a Nevada man who made death threats against that state’s secretary of state’s office. The latter calls reportedly included: “I hope your children are being abused. You will all (expletively) die.”

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Last week, a 42-year-old man from Lincoln, Nebraska, pleaded guilty to making multiple Instagram threats aimed at the Colorado Secretary of State over the past year.

“Feel safe?” Travis Ford said, according to court records. “You shouldn’t.”

Jena Griswold, the foreign secretary, said those making the threats are trying to stop them and others from doing their job to protect fair and free elections.

“We won’t be stopped. I won’t be stopped,” Griswold said in an interview. “It just fuels my resolve.”

The US Election Assistance Commission voted unanimously earlier this month to expand the use of its resources to protect poll workers and officials from threats. Amid the barrage, some in Congress are also looking for solutions.

Besides at least a dozen Bills introduced or passed at the state level, legislation introduced by Congressional Democrats last year would make it a federal crime for any person to intimidate or threaten a poll worker. It was part of a larger Democratic-led suffrage effort that vacated the House but was then stopped by a Senate filibuster. A separate law protecting election workers and poll workers was introduced in February.

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The ban on election threats would cover cases like some in Arizona, where officials have been taking threatening phone calls and messages since 2020 that escalated during a partisan review of election results in the state’s largest county.

Maricopa County clerk Stephen Richer received profanity-laden voicemails calling him a “scumbag” and a “traitor,” threatening him with the arrest of citizens, and telling him he was going to rot in hell.

A caller told him that if he caused any more trouble for the Republican-backed contractors conducting the audit, he would “never” make it to his “next little board meeting.”

Richer said he forwarded some of the messages to law enforcement and deleted his Facebook account when people began finding and harassing his wife.

Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson knows these kinds of threats all too well. She was among election officials who received personal threats after Trump peddled his false claims of widespread voter fraud.

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In a statement released after Tuesday’s congressional hearing, she said poll workers signed up 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, leading to “a pervasive sense of anxiety and fear that permeates our daily lives and the lives of our families.”

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

Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, transcribed or redistributed without permission.

https://www.local10.com/news/politics/2022/06/22/threats-testimony-rings-familiar-for-election-workers/ Threats sound familiar to campaign workers

Sarah Y. Kim

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