Majority Of Election Officials Face Threats, And Significant Number Fear Assault, Survey Finds

CHARLOTTE, NORTH CAROLINA - MARCH 5: Poll workers assist voters on Super Tuesday at WTVI/PBS studios, Precinct 46 in Mecklenburg county, on March 5, 2024 in Charlotte, North Carolina. 15 States and one U.S. Territor... CHARLOTTE, NORTH CAROLINA - MARCH 5: Poll workers assist voters on Super Tuesday at WTVI/PBS studios, Precinct 46 in Mecklenburg county, on March 5, 2024 in Charlotte, North Carolina. 15 States and one U.S. Territory hold their primary elections on Super Tuesday, awarding more delegates than any other day in the presidential nominating calendar. (Photo by Grant Baldwin/Getty Images) MORE LESS
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Despite the fact that 92 percent of election officials across the country have taken steps to protect themselves and the election process since the chaos of 2020, election officials fear for their safety as well as the threat of political interference in November, according to a new survey from the Brennan Center for Justice.

Of the 928 election officials surveyed between February and March of this year, more than 1 in 3 have experienced threats, harassment, or abuse, the Brennan report found. And, regardless of whether or not officials themselves have experienced some form of abuse, the survey found that the vast majority of election workers feel that threats against those in their position have increased since the 2020 election. 

More than half of respondents also expressed concern about their colleagues’ safety, and more than a quarter expressed concern about being assaulted either at home or at work. The Brennan Center further reported that 47 percent of respondents reported concern over being harrassed on the phone and 45 percent are concerned about social media harassment — increases from both 2023 and 2022. 

Election experts who previously spoke to TPM have warned that violence, harassment, and intimidation against election workers will almost certainly ramp up ahead of the historic and historically fraught 2024 presidential election, and could be particularly pervasive depending on how close the results end up being. The abuse described by election workers, which has included death threats and online harassment, were inflamed by Donald Trump and his allies’ repeated lies that the 2020 election was stolen. 

In response to these threats, the Department of Justice established an Election Threats Task Force in 2021, which has thus far brought charges in 14 cases related to election worker threats. 

“There has been a lot of work done to increase security for election workers, for voters, and to protect our election infrastructure in the last three and a half years,” Lawrence Norden, senior director of the Brennan Center’s Elections & Government Program, said in an interview Wednesday with TPM. “And to me, that’s the most noteworthy thing — this isn’t a static environment and election officials are kind of helping to push back to ensure safety.”

Ahead of the 2024 election, election departments across the country have been preparing for the potential onslaught of harassment and threats with mental health and stress resiliency training and partnerships with law enforcement. They have also lobbied for — and in many states passed — legislation to protect election workers from threats and intimidation.

Election officials, according to the Brennan Center survey, are also worried that the continued threat of abuse and harassment will drive officials out of their positions — consistent with a recent and growing trend since the 2020 election of election officials leaving their positions amid growing threats to their safety. The survey found that 34 percent of survey participants know of fellow officials who have left their jobs because of safety concerns. 

Local election officials, the Brennan Center reported, are not only concerned about their physical safety, but also about the potential for top-down political interference in the election process, such as an elected official attempting to influence the results. More than 3 in 5 local election officials, of 62 percent, are worried about a political leader interfering with how officials do their jobs, and nearly 1 in 7 said they are concerned about pressure to certify the election in favor of a specific candidate or party. 

And in order to meet these new election security needs and administrative needs, 83 percent of election officials, according to the survey, said that their budget needs to grow over the next five years.

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