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Election Worker Safety

Posted by Sara Cooper | Jun 27, 2023 | 0 Comments

The 2020 Presidential election was a divisive pinpoint in our democracy, with the necessary assessment on election administration and their safety. Harassment, intimidation, and even threats against election workers came at an all-time high on a national level, and there is much concern for 2024.

Dangerous situations such as workers being followed after finishing counting ballots to security having to collect weapons from entering the election office made many reconsidering coming back to the polls in order to protect their identity and safety of family members. Some even had to go into hiding for a while or just only left their homes to go to work.

Many counties had become underserved with election workers over the past few years with the COVID-19 pandemic impacting public health and voter attraction. Organizations that focus on voter engagement and election administration have been in works to help the public sign up to work the polls for upcoming election. The traction of recruiting individuals was a success for the 2020 Presidential election and 2022 midterms.

Policies in California that has made voting a more accessible civil form of participation help aide the workload on Election Day for poll workers. The 2015 California New Motor Voter Act (AB 1461) automatically registers California residents to vote when they apply/renew for a California Identification Card or Driver's License (they can opt out as well). The 2016 California Voter's Choice Act also expands early in-person voting opportunities along with advanced technology systems that cast out ballots via mail for registered voters. For election workers, the state has also passed a bill that allow election workers to keep their addresses confidential.

The Department of Homeland Security established an Elections Threat Task Force in 2021 that included federal agencies such as the FBI, Civil Rights Division, and others that focus on the criminal justice system. Threats towards U.S. elections are reported to the task force, and investigations are opened and processed. Last year, over 1,000 cases were reviewed and a few were charged. Most of these investigations came from Arizona, Georgia, Colorado, Pennsylvania, and Michigan. These states were already highlighted for close calls on election results for certain positions, and it was known how workers felt unsafe after the elections were over.

Congress is continuing to implement new protections or legislative orders for election workers. According to the Center of American Progress, lawmakers and congressmen are planning on expanding allowable uses for election funding under the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) for physical security services and social media threat monitoring.

Yet election experts and officials have expressed skepticism of how effective these steps will be for the following reasons:

  1. The Byrne JAG Program is a large and competitive grant program that likely won't result in significant funding for state offices and the nearly 8,000 local election jurisdictions across the country. Evidence of this has surfaced: In Colorado, which has been a target for threats, the state's grant advisory board—mostly composed of local law enforcement officials—denied the secretary of state's funding request for the upcoming year.
  2. Many election officials aren't willing to sacrifice their limited HAVA funding for election improvements on their personal safety.
  3. Most safety improvements need to be made at the local level, but many local officials have struggled to receive the funding for improvements from their state officials.
  4. All 50 states and five territories have collectively received only $75 million in HAVA funding since the 2020 election, meaning many states received only $1 million for improvements to elections since the onslaught of threats began.

(Provided by the Center of American Progress)

Recommendations for Congress in order to help election workers include a separate form of state and local funding that goes straight to safety protocols and developments which would assist election administration and their staff members. They would be guaranteed that financial uplift in order to better protect their workers during these risky periods of voting. Federal agencies should also be in more direct contact with local police departments regarding how they approach threats and ensuring that they would be able to be a connector from the workers and the federal government for further assistance. Increased penalties and privacy protections for threats could further prevent mishap and danger for election officials and workers, along with law enforcement and election offices working on their professional relationship in learning from each other.

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