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Press Release

One in Three Election Officials Report Feeling Unsafe Because of Their Job

A new report by the Brennan Center for Justice and the Bipartisan Policy Center offers solutions to the various threats to election officials and their administration of free and fair elections.

June 16, 2021
Contact: Rebecca Autrey, Media Contact, rebecca.autrey@nyu.edu, 202-753-5904

The Bren­nan Center for Justice at NYU Law and the Bipar­tisan Policy Center today published a report on the state of the elec­tion offi­cial profes­sion and the toll of the unpre­ced­en­ted attacks on these offi­cials’ author­ity, cred­ib­il­ity, and personal safety that surged in the run-up to the 2020 elec­tion and have not stopped. The report features a survey find­ing that one in three elec­tion offi­cials report feel­ing unsafe because of their job, and one in six repor­ted having been threatened due to their job. The authors provide solu­tions for the vari­ous prob­lems facing elec­tion offi­cials, with calls to action for local, state, and federal govern­ments as well as social media compan­ies and other insti­tu­tions.

“Threats of viol­ence, smear campaigns, laws and lawsuits under­min­ing elec­tion offi­cials at every turn – this is what the profes­sion­als who uphold our elec­tions and demo­cracy are facing every day,” said Lawrence Norden, director of the Elec­tion Reform Program at the Bren­nan Center for Justice and co-author of Elec­tion Offi­cials Under Attack: How to Protect Admin­is­trat­ors and Safe­guard Demo­cracy. “The attacks will keep coming – and succeed­ing – unless there is a multi­pronged inter­ven­tion across govern­ment and soci­ety to stop the purvey­ors of the Big Lie from making it impossible for elec­tion offi­cials to do their jobs: conduct­ing free and fair elec­tions without partis­an­ship.”

Elec­tion Offi­cials Under Attack: How to Protect Admin­is­trat­ors and Safe­guard Demo­cracy iden­ti­fies four factors making elec­tion offi­cials’ work more diffi­cult and danger­ous: threats of viol­ence and other safety concerns; increased disin­form­a­tion being spread about elec­tions, espe­cially online and often by public offi­cials; rising pres­sure to prior­it­ize party interests over a demo­cratic process; and unsus­tain­able work­loads. For each prob­lem, the authors present multiple, urgent solu­tions.

“The contin­ued threats against elec­tion offi­cials and attempts to under­mine their inde­pend­ence months after the pres­id­en­tial elec­tion are anti­thet­ical to a free and fair demo­cracy,” said Matthew Weil, director of the Elec­tion Project at the Bipar­tisan Policy Center. “There are reas­on­able, imple­ment­able solu­tions that will safe­guard our elec­tions going forward and the recom­mend­a­tions in this report are developed with the direct input and parti­cip­a­tion of elec­tion offi­cials from across the coun­try.”

The authors, elec­tion offi­cials, and other experts will gather today online at noon ET for the Bipar­tisan Policy Center’s “Virtual Summit: Continu­ing Threats to Free and Fair Elec­tions.” Please click here for more inform­a­tion or to RSVP. And click here to view a video that will be featured at the event, of elec­tion offi­cials discuss­ing their exper­i­ences firsthand.

Here is a selec­tion from the report’s recom­mend­a­tions, listed by the type of chal­lenge confront­ing elec­tion offi­cials:

  • Threats of viol­ence against elec­tion offi­cials and other safety concerns.
    • The Depart­ment of Justice should create an Elec­tion Threats Task Force, which would work with federal, state, and local part­ners to provide expert­ise and resources to prior­it­ize the invest­ig­a­tion and prosec­u­tion of threats to elec­tion offi­cials. (This could be an initi­at­ive housed in the Civil Rights Depart­ment’s Voting Rights Enforce­ment Unit, which Attor­ney General Merrick Garland announced Friday he was plan­ning to expand.)
    • States should pass laws to protect offi­cials’ personal inform­a­tion and provide grants for offi­cials to purchase home secur­ity equip­ment.
  • Increased disin­form­a­tion being spread about elec­tions, espe­cially online and often by public offi­cials.
    • The Depart­ment of Home­land Secur­ity’s Cyber­se­cur­ity and Infra­struc­ture Secur­ity Agency should support the creation of a compre­hens­ive direct­ory of U.S. elec­tion offi­cials, which could be shared with inter­net plat­forms so they can amplify accur­ate inform­a­tion from those offi­cials.
    • Social media compan­ies should strengthen their efforts to push back against indi­vidu­als who spread mis- or disin­form­a­tion repeatedly, includ­ing by delay­ing posts of repeat disin­form­a­tion spread­ers to allow for vetting.
    • Party monit­ors, who became sources of misin­form­a­tion in 2020 about elec­tion proced­ures and the vote count­ing process, should be required to attend addi­tional train­ing and should be account­able for viol­at­ing rules and spread­ing disin­form­a­tion.
  • Rising partisan pres­sure to prior­it­ize party interests over a demo­cratic process, such as former Pres­id­ent Trump’s call to Geor­gi­a’s secret­ary of state.
    • States should explore struc­tural changes to elec­tion admin­is­tra­tion to insu­late offi­cials from attacks on inde­pend­ence, includ­ing protect­ing elec­tion offi­cials’ scope of author­ity over count­ing and certi­fy­ing elec­tions, and guar­an­tee­ing a minimum level of fund­ing for elec­tions so that offi­cials can resist polit­ical pres­sure without fear­ing they are risk­ing the resources needed to do their jobs.
    • States should create elec­tion admin­is­tra­tion advis­ory boards that include elec­tion offi­cials and members who repres­ent statewide office­hold­ers, legis­lat­ive lead­er­ship, voting rights organ­iz­a­tions, and other stake­hold­ers to foster effect­ive commu­nic­a­tion and the depol­it­i­ciz­a­tion of elec­tion admin­is­tra­tion poli­cy­mak­ing.
  • Unsus­tain­able work­loads for current elec­tion offi­cials and chal­lenges recruit­ing future admin­is­trat­ors.
    • Elec­tion offi­cials should lever­age exist­ing rela­tion­ships with state and local elec­tion offi­cial asso­ci­ations which can help empower offi­cials to improve work­ing condi­tions and better impact elec­tion-related policy.
    • Elec­tion offi­cials can develop rela­tion­ships with local colleges and univer­sit­ies to help build talent pools for future recruit­ment.

Elec­tion Offi­cials Under Attack: How to Protect Admin­is­trat­ors and Safe­guard Demo­cracy is based on dozens of inter­views with elec­tion offi­cials across the coun­try about their exper­i­ences during the 2020 elec­tions. These inter­views were conduc­ted by the Bren­nan Center and the Bipar­tisan Policy Center, with assist­ance from Harvard Kennedy School’s Ash Center for Demo­cratic Governance and Innov­a­tion. 

Please click here to read the full report.

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