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How Congress Can Help Protect Election Workers

Local election officials agree that the federal government’s support is inadequate or nonexistent.

Published: March 25, 2022

Elec­tion offi­cials are the heroes who keep our demo­cracy going no matter what — through the Civil Warnatural disasters, and most recently, a pandemic.

Yet, in our recent poll of local elec­tion offi­cials, one in six repor­ted that they have exper­­i­enced threats because of their job, with 77 percent saying they feel these threats have increased in recent years. Over half repor­ted that they are concerned about the safety of their colleagues, and more than one in four are concerned about being assaul­ted on the job.                                                                                                            

Given those numbers, it is unsur­pris­ing that 30 percent of these offi­cials knew of one or more elec­­tion work­ers who have left their jobs at least in part because of fear for their safety, increased threats, or intim­id­a­­tion. Most are concerned about retain­ing and recruit­ing elec­­tion work­ers in the future.

The elec­tion offi­cials we surveyed were in strong agree­ment about one thing: The federal govern­ment is not adequately address­ing the prob­lem. Nearly 80 percent of elec­­tion offi­­cials think the federal govern­­ment is either doing noth­ing to support them or taking some steps but not doing enough.

While the Justice Depart­ment’s task force to address the issue of threats can provide after-the-fact crim­inal account­ab­il­ity, elec­tion work­ers also need proact­ive steps that will help keep them and their famil­ies safe now. Here are some of the ways Congress can act.

  • Congress should author­ize grants that can be used for phys­ical safety train­ing, includ­ing preven­tion and de-escal­a­tion train­ing. These grants could pay for online privacy compan­ies that ask data brokers to remove indi­vidu­als’ personal inform­a­tion like cell­phone numbers from the inter­net. The grants could also be used to improve the secur­ity of elec­tion offi­cials’ homes with items such as door­bell cameras and home secur­ity system subscrip­tions.
  • Congress should capit­al­ize on the strengthened rela­tion­ship that the Cyber­se­cur­ity and Infra­struc­ture Secur­ity Agency (CISA) has built with local elec­tion offi­cials since 2018 by author­iz­ing fund­ing for CISA to develop and conduct online safety train­ing. Train­ing could cover how elec­tion work­ers can avoid reveal­ing their and their famil­ies’ loca­tion. These meth­ods include turn­ing off loca­tion tags in social media post­ings, asking websites to remove personal inform­a­tion, and avoid­ing post­ings that might inad­vert­ently reveal loca­tions of schools and homes.
  • Federal law already prohib­its threats carried out through the mail or other forms of inter­state commu­nic­a­tions, but our survey found that of those elec­tion offi­cials who have been person­ally threatened or harassed, over half have been subject to this beha­vior in person. Federal law also prohib­its intim­id­a­tion of voters in a federal elec­tion, as well as those who are assist­ing them in exer­cising their rights, but it should make clear that it is a crime to intim­id­ate elec­tion work­ers who are carry­ing out the vote tabu­la­tion process, stat­utory audit or recount proced­ures, recon­cil­ing vote data, or vote certi­fic­a­tion. The rights of elec­tion observ­ers can be respec­ted without toler­at­ing conduct that places another person in reas­on­able fear for their safety or the safety of others.
  • Many elec­tion work­ers have repor­ted feel­ing unsafe in their own homes due to threats, harass­ment, and doxing. Congress should prohibit reveal­ing the person­ally identi­fy­ing inform­a­tion of elec­tion work­ers and elec­tion vendors with the intent to threaten or intim­id­ate them.
  • Many states have address confid­en­ti­al­ity programs that protect the home addresses of surviv­ors of domestic viol­ence or stalk­ing. Congress could provide grant funds to all states that main­tain such programs and permit elec­tion work­ers to enroll.

Elec­tion work­ers deserve better than threats against them for doing their job. Congress should do its part to protect the work­ers who protect our elec­tions.