The federal government is not doing enough to protect election workers from a growing barrage of threats and intimidation, according to a recent national poll of local election officials.
Nearly eight in 10 election officials said the federal government is either doing nothing to support them or not doing enough, according to the poll from the Brennan Center for Justice, a nonprofit law and public policy institute at New York University Law School.
One in six election workers reported that they’d experienced job-related threats–and nearly 80% of those said the threats have increased in recent election cycles. Over 25% said they’re afraid of being assaulted on the job, and more than half are concerned about their co-workers’ safety.
Because of the increase in harassment from the public, many local election officials are worried about recruiting and keeping poll workers. Fully 30% of them said they knew of one or more election workers who’ve left their job, partly because of increased intimidation and safety concerns.
The U.S. Justice Department created a task force last year to fight threats against election workers. It “can provide after-the-fact criminal accountability,” said the Brennan Center, but “election workers also need proactive steps that will help keep them and their families safe.”
Even more concerning, election officials reported that half of the threats they experienced were in person. Federal law prohibits intimidating voters during federal elections, but Congress also needs to pass legislation to make it clear that it is a crime to intimidate election workers, the Brennan Center said.
The Brennan Center’s report offers additional solutions for Congressional legislation that’s needed to protect election workers:
- Provide safety training. Election workers need physical safety training, including prevention and de-escalation tactics. They also need to learn how to remove personal information such as cellphone numbers from the Internet, and how to improve their home security by using doorbell cameras or enrolling in a home security system.
- Protect sensitive information online. Congress should fund the federal Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) to develop and conduct safety training for election workers to protect themselves online. Tactics include learning how to avoid revealing personal information, such as a home address; turning off location tags in social media posts; avoiding posts that inadvertently reveal home and school locations; and asking websites to remove personal information.
- Toughen existing election protection laws. Federal law already bans threats made through the mail or other forms of interstate communications, but that doesn’t address in-person threats to election workers. While federal law prohibits intimidating voters during federal elections, “it should make clear that it is a crime to intimidate election workers,” the report said.
- Provide local funding to states. Congress should make grants to states with confidential address programs to expand them to election workers.
Who can Georgia election workers turn to when they’re facing intimidation or accusations of misconduct? Learn more from our story addressing local threats.