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Analysis

Attacks Against Election Officials Are Taking a Toll

A new Brennan Center poll finds that election officials are under attack and leaving their jobs. They need help.

March 15, 2022

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The public servants who run our elections are alarmed.

Between January 31 and February 14, we had the Benenson Strategy Group poll nearly 600 local election officials about their jobs. Their responses should set off warning bells across all levels of government and provoke action from Congress. 

More than half of the respondents said they’re concerned about the safety of their colleagues. Nearly one in three know at least one colleague who quit their job in part or entirely because of safety concerns, increased threats, or intimidation. And of those who have been threatened, more than half have experienced it up close and personal. 

Why is this happening? Well, the Big Lie, of course. Nearly two in three local election officials we polled said that false information about elections makes their jobs more dangerous. Ninety-five percent blame social media companies for allowing their platforms to peddle outright lies and conspiracy theories.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise why these public servants are looking over their shoulders when you hear some of their stories. 

Racist harassment. Death threats. Private personal information released online. In one frightening story from Georgia, someone showed up at the door of an election worker to make a “citizen’s arrest.” But the election worker didn’t live there anymore. It was her grandmother’s place, and her grandmother was understandably terrified. Incidents like these have even led some election officials to flee their homes for safety. For a more visceral taste of what election officials have faced since the 2020 election, watch our video on it:
But election officials also warned of another threat as we charge full steam ahead toward November’s midterms and then on to the 2024 presidential election: political interference. 

Nearly one in five respondents worry they will face pressure to certify election results in favor of a specific candidate or party. These political attacks are taking their toll. Twenty percent of those polled plan on leaving their jobs before the 2024 election. Of those, a third cite political leaders’ dishonest attacks on the legitimacy of our election systems as one of the top reasons. 

Despite the hardships they face, most election officials enjoy their jobs, explaining they took the job to serve their communities and make sure our elections run smoothly and fairly. And if we want these honest public officials to stay in their jobs, they need help from Washington, DC. More than three out of four election officials believe the federal government should be doing more to support them. 

It’s time for Congress to take these threats against the people who run our elections seriously and protect them against the violent conspiracy theorists and partisans who continue to undermine the legitimacy of our election systems.

There are many ways to do this. Members of Congress can set aside funds that can be used for things like home and office security for election workers. They should also make it a crime to intimidate election workers for the purpose of interfering with the vote tabulation process. And finally, they should make it a crime to “dox” election workers, or reveal their personal information, with the intent to threaten or intimidate them.

It’s the least Congress can do for these unsung heroes of our democracy who are under very real attack.