Right-Wing Threats to Poll Workers Endanger Future Elections

Last updated on July 4th, 2021 at 01:07 pm

Volunteering to serve as an election official is one of the most important responsibilities a person can accept.

There are those poll workers who sign in voters, record they have voted, and assist those experiencing problems casting their ballots.

There are also poll watchers, those who quietly observe voters’ interactions with poll workers and ensure voters and workers alike are refraining from illegal or otherwise unpermitted behavior, like snapping pictures of their ballots or attempting to influence other voters.

Then there are professionals at county election boards and states‘ secretaries of state offices working behind the scenes to keep track of registered voters and their party affiliations, verify absentee ballots go out and return on time, provide ample poll workers, address technology issues, comply with election laws,  and, of course, count each ballot.

They are important jobs that require commitment to the democratic process.

All receive training in election laws and procedures that includes a promise not to “electioneer;” i.e., act in a way that can be construed as intimidating, influencing voters toward certain candidates, or otherwise interfering with voters’ opportunity to cast their ballots.

These jobs are not known for being particularly exciting nor dangerous.

However, this past November, during the most tense presidential election in modern American history, threats to election workers spiked as right-wing Donald Trump supporters targeted their animosity toward those they baselessly felt were helping to “steal votes” from Trump.

Acting on lies Trump and right-wing hate media fed them about smuggled ballots and votes being overturned and/or discarded, election officials found themselves confronting death threats, being followed,  and receiving harassing phone messages.

recent Brennan Center for Justice and Bipartisan Policy Center survey of over 200 local election officials reveals about a third expressed feeling either very or somewhat concerned about “being harassed on the job” or “feeling unsafe.”

Nearly 4-in-10 reported concern over “facing pressure to certify election results.”

Al Schmidt, a republican member of Philadelphia’s city board of elections, explains:

“What is normally a fairly obscure administrative job is now one where lunatics are threatening to murder your children. That is not something anyone anticipates or signs up for.”

This has led to many deciding to retire or refusing to volunteer again, emboldening efforts in key states to deploy partisan poll watchers and exacerbate voter suppression.

Al Schmidt, for example, has decided not to seek reelection in 2023.

According to Associated Press (AP) reporter Anthony Izaguirre:

“It’s difficult to quantify exactly how many election officials across the country have left their posts and why, since the departures are not generally tallied. Retirements also are common after presidential elections. But in places that do track such information, along with anecdotal accounts from county officials, it is clear that many have recently left because of the newfound partisan rancor around the jobs and the threats many local election workers faced leading up to the November election and afterward as former President Donald Trump and his allies challenged the results.”

He adds:

“The local election jobs are being vacated as Trump’s false claims of fraud persist within the GOP and provide a platform for his loyalists to launch campaigns to become top election officials in several swing states.”

Ingham County, Michigan clerk Barb Byrum fears those loyalists launching campaigns for top election officials jobs are going to result in more conspiracy-theory minded individuals tainting the field.

She  warns:

 “These conspiracy theorists are in it for the long haul. They’re in it to completely crumble our republic, and they’re looking at these election administrator positions. They’re playing the long game.”

Al Schmidt said:

“I think that the big danger here is especially if those positions—which, again, are typically pretty obscure—are targeted to replace those professional election administrators with partisan political operatives whose job it is to undermine confidence.” 

It isn’t just lunatics on the fringes “playing the long game.”

Republican-controlled states are playing along, passing legislation requiring election workers to pay hefty fines for what would normally be minor inconveniences or logistical errors.

Anthony Izaguirre writes for the AP:

“A new law in Iowa imposes a $10,000 fine on election administrators for a technical infraction of election rules. A similar law in Florida could lead to $25,000 fines for election supervisors if a ballot drop box is accessible outside early voting hours or is left unsupervised.”

Florida, in addition, recently passed a sweeping voting reform bill that, in part, limits who can return completed mail-in ballots, prohibits conducting elections using nonprofit and private funds , and expands partisan observation during ballot tallying.

A new law in Georgia permits state residents to formally challenge unlimited numbers voters’ qualifications.

Democratic election lawyer, Marc Elias, who has sued on behalf of voting rights groups to halt the law, said:

“If you believe that these challenges aren’t going to be racially targeted, then you are crazy. This is going to become a tool of voter suppression by Republicans in the state of Georgia.” 

Georgia is also the state where, in March, Gov. Brian Kemp signed legislation to strip election control from local and county election boards in order to impose new voter ID requirements, limit mail-in ballot drop boxes, reject ballots delivered erroneously to incorrect precincts, permit conservative activists to challenge voters’ eligibility, and even criminalize distributing pizza and water to voters waiting in line to cast their ballots.

In a speech earlier this month, Attorney General Merrick Garland asserted:

“We have not been blind to the dramatic increase in menacing and violent threats against all manner of state and local election workers, ranging from the highest administrators to volunteer poll workers. Such threats undermine our electoral process and violate a myriad of federal laws.”

The Brennan Center and Bipartisan Policy Center urges changes to protect election workers. This includes calling on the Justice Department (DOJ) “to prioritize identifying, investigating, and prosecuting threats against election officials and workers,” and on states to provide better funding for workers’ security.

The report also asks election professionals to strengthen their voices through organizing and lobbying efforts.

In six decades, the Republican party went from the push to preserve Democratic President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal to clutching its pearls over high minority voter turnout, LGBTQ+ rights, criminal justice reform, environmental regulations, health care availability, economic assistance to the disadvantaged, expanding education, and strengthening social safety nets.

It has become the party of white supremacistconspiracy theoristgun fetishist authoritarians.

That’s why the republican party cheats.

It would never win elections otherwise.


Ted Millar is writer and teacher. His work has been featured in myriad literary journals, including Better Than Starbucks, Caesura, Circle Show, Cactus Heart, & Third Wednesday. He is also a contributor to The Left Place blog on Substack, Liberal Nation Rising, and Medium.

Copyright PoliticusUSA LLC 2008-2023