States Pass Protective Bills To Get Ahead Of Far-Right Threats Against Election Workers In 2024

A poll worker waits for voters at a precinct during the presidential primary elections in Atlanta, Georgia, on March 12, 2024. (Photo by Elijah Nouvelage / AFP) (Photo by ELIJAH NOUVELAGE/AFP via Getty Images)
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Nicole Browne, president of the Indiana Association of County Clerks and Monroe County Clerk, has been at the forefront of pushing legislation to protect Indiana election workers against threats and violence heading into the 2024 election.

In the aftermath of the 2020 election, Browne heard stories about election workers getting followed to their cars and experiencing other forms of intimidation, and told TPM in an interview this week that she and her colleagues have not been immune to the new dangerous world election workers now find themselves in.

Like others across the country, election workers in Indiana have increasingly expressed concerns about their safety ahead of the 2024 election, Browne said, which is why she was relieved that a poll worker protections bill has passed the state legislature there and is now awaiting the governor’s signature. 

While most of the specific instances of intimidation around the U.S. during and post-2020 was led by supporters of one particular political candidate who fueled conspiracy theories about rigged elections, the legislation was never intended to be, in her words, “a political thing.” Browne emphasized instead that the bill was met with overwhelming bipartisan support and, like others of its kind, was introduced as part of an effort to be “proactive” in protecting election workers before any violent incidents actually occur. 

In Missouri, a similar bill was introduced in January of this year, which, if passed, will make it a crime to harass or intimidate election officials while doing their job. 

And earlier this month, the Maryland Senate unanimously passed the Protecting Election Officials Act of 2024, which would make it a crime punishable by up to three years in prison and a maximum fine of $2500, to threaten to harm an election official or family member of an election official. 

These states are part of a growing legislative trend across the country: lawmakers in red and blue states alike are introducing and passing legislation to proactively protect election workers from having to face the same onslaught of harassment brought on by Trump supporters and conspiracy theorists in 2020 during the upcoming presidential election. 

Since the 2020 election 14 states — both red and blue — have implemented laws to protect election workers from threats and intimidation, and 10 of those states have criminalized intimidation of election workers, making these crimes punishable with prison time and fines, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Election officials hope the bills will be an effective deterrent in at least decreasing the likelihood of the same level of threats in 2024. 

“Having these laws on the books could be a very effective deterrent preventing someone from taking the step beyond being angry about the election to actually threatening or harming an election official,” said David Becker, the executive director and founder of the nonpartisan Center for Election Innovation and Research.

In Georgia, HB 1118, which, if signed into law, will protect all election workers from threats and harassment, was drafted not in direct response to any one case of election worker violence, but was put forward to address the general increase in election worker threats across the entire state after the 2020 election, according to Georgia Democratic state Rep. Saira Draper, a sponsor of the bill. You’ll recall, Georgia was a hotbed for MAGA aggression and conspiracy theories after President Biden won the state in 2020, and after then-President Trump tried to pressure Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to “find” the votes to overturn Biden’s victory. 

“We have not seen that harassment or intimidation factor wane, and we fully expect for it to increase here in Georgia,” Draper told TPM. “And it’s something that we have seen not just near metro area counties, but across the state.”

It’s why the bill has received broad bipartisan support, she added. She said the only people who have testified against the measure are those who are “not operating on good information” and are “listening to conspiracy theorists.”

“There is a lot of misinformation, disinformation around elections and election administration, and those are the people that we have seen testify against the bill,” Draper said. 

While there are some states that might have certain laws on the books that could address some of the concerns related to violence against election workers, these poll worker bills are still significant, Chris Harvey, former Georgia election’s director and current deputy director of Georgia Peace Officer Standards and Training Council told TPM. In addition to providing additional needed protection, he said, these laws bring into “sharp relief” the idea that there are specific sensitivities that need to be considered and protections that should be in place when it comes to elections. 

“There is some value in that you’re specifically identifying the setting in which this takes place,” Harvey said. “It kind of raises the temperature, even if the penalties are the same,” he said.”

On a technical level, the new laws help specify the difference between a regular harassment bill and an election-specific harassment bill, which moves penalties out of the misdemeanor arena and into the realm of a more serious felony charge, according to Browne. 

“If you’re being harassed in conjunction with helping to facilitate an election, that becomes a level six felony,” she said.

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