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Protecting Elected Officials from Threats

Public Citizen News / September-October 2023

By Londyn Wiggins

This article appeared in the September/October 2023 edition of Public Citizen News. Download the full edition here.

Free and fair elections are the foundation of a healthy democracy, but across the United States, the systems and the people responsible for facilitating elections are under threat.

Public Citizen is working across the country to put safeguards in place to protect elections and election officials.

Thanks in large part to the rise of Trump authoritarianism, the once-staid work of election administration has now become a zone of threats and intimidation. An April 2023 study by the Brennan Center found that nearly one in three election officials have been abused, threatened, or harassed because of their jobs. One in three election officials surveyed in 2022 knew someone who left their job running elections because they didn’t feel safe. One in five election officials surveyed last year planned to leave their jobs before 2024.

Election deniers and bad actors with access to election equipment, software, and data endanger the integrity and security of elections and jeopardize voter confidence. Three quarters report needing additional funding to address staffing shortages and implement security upgrades. Ongoing attacks against local election officials and insider threats from actors who seek to compromise American elections have hindered already underfunded election offices and jeopardized their ability to administer future elections. Our elections – and our democracy – must be protected.

Public Citizen is working with allies in cities, counties and states to win  legislation to protect election workers and shield their personal information from becoming public. Tenstates – California, Colorado, Maine, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Montana, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon, and Washington – have passed new laws since January 2022 to protect election workers’ personal information or create or toughen penalties for harassing them, according to Voting Rights Lab, as have many counties and cities

Meanwhile, election threats are also coming from inside the house: from election deniers who are serving as election officials.

In Mesa County, Colo., for example, the county elections clerk and deputy snuck someone into the county elections offices to copy the hard drives of Dominion Voting Systems machines. The clerk was found guilty of tampering with voting equipment, violating election rules, illegally copying data and sharing it with unauthorized individuals in an attempt to prove a conspiracy theory about the 2020 presidential election. She was sentenced to four months of home detention, incurred a $750 fine and 120 hours of community service and was removed from overseeing the 2022 election. Colorado responded by passing new legislation to prevent election sabotage.

To address these multiple threats to election security and integrity, Public Citizen  has drafted  and is promoting model legislative language to:

1) Prevent harassment and intimidation of election workers;

2) Prevent or limit the impact of doxing (publishing home addresses and similar information about election workers);

3) Address increasing insider threats to elections; and

4) Encourage robust funding of elections offices in general

Public Citizen has had movement calls with celebrities, partners, and activists speaking to the importance of protecting elections, as well as many smaller calls to support state and local leaders and activists. We are working with activists to pass legislation in many states and municipalities, including Alabama, Arizona, California, Florida, Illinois, Michigan, Missouri, Mississippi, New Hampshire, North Carolina, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Texas, and Wisconsin.

“It is almost unfathomable that in today’s America, we have to defend the integrity of the election process itself,” said Public Citizen President Robert Weissman. “But that’s the reality in which we live. Public Citizen is doing everything in our power to protect this most foundational requirement for a working democracy: a system that truly and accurately counts every vote.”