Dozens of people have been charged across the country threats against election workers A Justice Department unit is trying to stem a wave of violence and graphic threats against those counting and securing votes.
Even in the usually quiet period between elections, government employees are under threat, secretaries of state and experts have warned.Some point to former President Donald Trump and his allies Repeatedly lied about 2020 election being stolen and Spread conspiracy theories about election workers.experts worry The 2024 election could be even worse And wants the Justice Department to do more to protect election workers.
The Justice Department created a task force in 2021 led by its Public Integrity Unit to investigate election crimes. The department’s No. 2, John Keller, said in an interview with The Associated Press that the department hopes its prosecution will deter others from threatening election workers.
“This isn’t going to be taken lightly. This isn’t going to be taken lightly,” he said. “Federal judges, courts are taking misconduct seriously and penalties will be commensurate with the seriousness of the conduct.”
More people are expected to admit to threatening election workers in Arizona and Georgia on Thursday.
The department has opened 14 cases, two of which resulted in years in prison, including an Iowa man who was sentenced to 2.5 years in prison for leaving messages threatening to “lynch” and “hang” Arizona election officials.
A Texas man is Given 3 1/2 years Earlier this month, after suggesting “mass shootings of poll workers and election officials” last year, the charges allege. The Justice Department said the man wrote in an email: “Someone needs to capture these people and their children. The children are the most important message to send.”
Lawyers for the pair did not immediately respond to messages seeking comment.
An indictment unsealed in August targeted a man accused of leaving expletive-filled voicemails for Republican Tina Barton, a former Detroit hostess, after the 2020 election. A clerk in suburban Rochester Hills, Michigan. According to the indictment, the man swore that “when you least expect it, a million patriots will surround you” and that “we will … kill you.”
Barton said it was just one of many threats that made her feel deeply anxious.
“I really hope these allegations send a strong message that we won’t find ourselves in the same position after the next election,” she said.
Colorado Secretary of State Jena Griswold said the period between elections is usually quiet for workers running voting systems across the U.S. Not anymore. Democrats have fought back Fight against conspiracy theories surrounding the election.
“I expect things to get worse as the year winds down and into next year’s presidential election,” Griswold said.
Griswold said the threats would come in “waves and waves,” often following false claims on social media by high-profile figures about the theft of the 2020 election or blog posts on far-right sites. While the nation has become more aware of the threats to election workers, she worries there aren’t enough prosecutions and states aren’t doing enough to protect workers.
“Do we have the best tools to get through the next period? Absolutely not,” Griswold said.
Election officials noted thousands of threats nationwide, but relatively few prosecutions. They said they understood the bar to actually prosecute a case was high, but more could be done.
Liz Howard, a former Virginia election official who now works at the Brennan Center for Justice Election and Government Project, called on the Justice Department to hire a senior adviser with ties to election officials to improve outreach.
According to a survey released by the Brennan Center in April, about one in five election workers knew someone who had left election work for safety reasons, and 73% of local election officials said harassment had increased.
Since its inception, the task force has reviewed more than 2,000 reports of threats and harassment across the country, but most of those cases have yet to be charged by prosecutors, who point to the high legal bar set by the Supreme Court for criminal prosecutions . Keller said communication must be viewed as a “genuine threat,” one that crosses a line with a serious intent to harm someone, thereby becoming a potential crime rather than free speech.
“What we’re doing from a law enforcement perspective is not criminalizing free speech or frankly preventing free speech,” he said.
The task force’s work comes as Trump and other Republicans accuse the Biden administration of using the Justice Department to target political opponents, though the task force itself has yet to be publicly targeted by Republicans.
Many Republican leaders have sharply criticized the federal indictment of Trump and Trump rioters who attacked the capitol On January 6, 2021, Trump himself faced Federal indictment in Washington, D.C.and A state indictment in Georgia He is trying to overturn the 2020 election results. He has denied wrongdoing and said his actions were legal.A series of federal and state investigations and dozens of lawsuits found no evidence Elections are rigged.
Trump, the front-runner for the Republican Party’s 2024 presidential nomination, has continued to argue in speeches and online posts that the 2020 election was rigged.
For many election workers, the threats are a major driver of their departures, leading to the failure of elections before 2024, said Dokhi Fassihian, deputy director of strategy and programs for Issue One, a nonpartisan reform group that represents election officials. The experience team was hollowed out. .
“A lot of people don’t think it’s worth staying,” she said.
About one in five 2024 election officials will start serving after the 2020 election, the Brennan Center survey found.
Attorney General Merrick Garland vowed the Justice Department would continue its investigation and work to preserve voting rights.
“A well-functioning democracy requires the public servants who administer our elections to be able to do their jobs without fear for their own lives,” he said in a statement.