March 23, 2022

By Jenny Zimmer, RepresentUs National Organizing Director

In the wake of the 2020 election, there were widespread reports of election officials receiving violent threats. Nonpartisan election workers were under unusual and intense scrutiny, primarily as a result of former President Donald Trump’s false claims of election fraud. The outcome of this heightened tension was a barrage of harassment and intimidation against election workers – people who are crucial to the functioning of American democracy. 

Many of these instances of intimidation received significant publicity, including a terrifying incident where a man followed a Detroit election worker to her home and threatened her. A recent report from the Brennan Center reveals just how common these threats against election workers were during the 2020 election and what a dramatic impact these threats have had on these individuals. 

Threats against election workers on the rise

According to a survey of 596 local election officials from around the country, one in six election officials have experienced threats on the job, with 77 percent responding that they believe the threats have increased in recent years. These threats varied in nature, from death threats to threats mentioning the names of officials’ children. These threats have had a severe impact on these officials’ lives, forcing some into “hiring personal secur­ity, flee­ing their homes, and putting their chil­dren into coun­sel­ing.” 

Unsurprisingly, these threats have led to a mass exodus of election workers and officials, with 30 percent acknowledging that they know at least one colleague who has left due to “fear for their safety, increased threats, or intim­id­a­tion.” 

This trend shows no sign of slowing, with 20 percent of officials polled responding that they intend to resign from their positions before the 2024 election. This is despite the fact that 75 percent said they found “real enjoyment” in their work. Ultimately, the constant attacks on our election system and the officials who ensure this system runs smoothly have taken a significant toll, and American democracy is worse off for it. 

States across the country respond

In light of this wave of threats and harassment of election workers, several states have introduced legislation to penalize those who intimidate election workers. At RepresentUs, we’re tracking nine states who have either introduced or enacted legislation to further protect election workers from harassment and threats. So far, California, Colorado, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, New Mexico, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington have all introduced legislation of this type, with the Oregon state legislature already passing its measure. 

As the Associated Press reports, the majority of these states proposing legislation have state legislatures controlled by Democrats. Yet the election-related threats have hardly only been directed towards Democrats. In fact, after the 2020 election, Brad Raffensberger, the Republican Secretary of State of Georgia, had to endure caravans driving past his house and threats against his wife after former President Trump claimed there was voter fraud in his state. 

However, there may be some bipartisan momentum in Congress to protect election workers nationally. As we’ve previously written, senators on both sides of the aisle are working to improve the Electoral Count Act, in addition to protecting election workers from threats of violence and intimidation. 

Although the Senate has failed to pass the Freedom to Vote Act, there are still reasons to be optimistic about the push to protect voting rights and improve American democracy, and measures to further protect American election officials would be a great step in the right direction. 

Ultimately, American democracy relies upon nonpartisan election workers and officials who perform the crucial duties of overseeing elections. Without these workers, our elections could be taken over by partisan actors and trust in our democracy could continue to decline. Ensuring these officials are able to perform their work without threats, intimidation, or harassment should be a priority for the country’s leaders. If you’d like to join RepresentUs in pushing to protect our election workers, sign up for our newsletter below and join our movement!  

RepresentUs is America’s leading anti-corruption organization working city-by-city, state-by-state to fix our broken political system.