1 in 5 local election officials plan to quit their jobs before 2024 and over half fear for their colleagues' safety, poll finds
- One in five election officials plan to leave the field before 2024, a new survey found.
- The Brennan Center poll also found that officials are increasingly concerned by violent threats.
One in five local election officials are planning to quit their jobs before 2024 and over half fear for their colleagues' physical safety at work, a new poll from the Brennan Center for Justice shows.
Election officials are still coping with the fallout of the 2020 election nearly two years on. President Donald Trump and his allies mounted an aggressive campaign to overturn his presidential election loss, openly pressured election officials like Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to reverse the results, and spread disinformation that targeted specific election workers
Investigative work by outlets including Reuters has documented hundreds of threats lodged against election workers since the 2020 election, with those harassed having little to no legal recourse or reprieve.
In the poll, 77% of officials surveyed agreed that threats have gotten worse in recent years, 54% said they are very or somewhat concerned about their colleagues' safety, and nearly one-third of election officials said they know at least one other official who has left their job because of threats.
One in six officials polled they themselves had received threats, with 73% saying they were threatened over the phone, 53% in-person, and 37% over social media. Less than half reported the threat to law enforcement.
Very few of those who threatened election officials in the wake of the 2020 election have been prosecuted, for reasons including inadequate coordination between federal and state law enforcement agencies. Some of the harassing messages were also considered protected political speech by law enforcement and weren't prosecuted as a result.
The Department of Justice formed a new task force dedicated to tracking and prosecuting threats against election workers in the summer of 2021. But so far, the task force has charged just one person, a Texas man who allegedly threatened Georgia election officials in 2020. In the poll, 90% of election officials said they'd never heard of or didn't know much about the task force, but 57% were confident it would make them feel safer when they learned more about it.
While election officials surveyed generally reported high levels of satisfaction with their jobs in the survey, threats and other pressures are driving departures from the field, with 20% saying they are very or somewhat unlikely to continue to serve in their posts in 2024. One-third of those who said they were unlikely to stay cited attacks on the system from political leaders and 30% cited "unnecessary stress."
Officials in states like Arizona and Wisconsin, in particular, have had to fight back partisan ballot reviews and sham audits of the 2020 election that have compounded politicized harassment, violent threats, and even threats of arrest towards officials.
Election officials are concerned about those efforts translating into political pressure, with 86% expressing worry about partisan interference in elections around the country and 18% worried about personally facing pressure to "certify election results in favor of a specific candidate or party."
In addition to partisan reviews of the 2020 election, Republican-controlled state legislatures have increasingly targeted election officials with new laws that give legislatures and officials more control over counting votes and certifying elections, and imposed new restrictions on election officials that could lead to civil penalties and even criminal charges.
In 2021, 15 states passed 19 such laws interfering with election authority, according to a February analysis by the nonpartisan
Election officials, who often operate off of shoestring budgets, also want more federal support and funding from Congress, with 77% saying they believe the federal government isn't doing anything or not doing enough to support them.
A major Democratic voting rights package that would include stronger federal penalties for harassing election workers, protections against local officials being removed without cause, and more federal funds and grants for elections died in the Senate in January.
The $1.5 trillion omnibus federal spending package passed by the House of Representatives on Wednesday evening only included $75 million for election funds and grants, which falls far short of the resources officials and experts say are needed to adequately fund the elections of the future.
The poll, conducted by the Benson Strategy Group for the Brennan Center, served nearly 600 local election officials between January 31 and February 14 with a margin of error of ± 3.95 percentage points.
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