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DOJ, FBI Addressing Threats of Violence Against Election Officials

September 21, 2021 by Reece Nations
(AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)

WASHINGTON — The Federal Bureau of Investigation alongside the Department of Justice is reaching out to election supervisors around the country following months of abuse and threats of violence long after the certification of President Joe Biden’s electoral college victory.

The DOJ launched a law enforcement task force in July to address the increase in threats made against election workers and others associated with the electoral process. Election officials across the country have experienced a barrage of threats since former President Donald Trump claimed the election was stolen due to mass voter fraud.

“The FBI will not tolerate threats against any federal, state or local election worker participating in the common goals of safeguarding our electoral process and the rights of voters,” FBI Deputy Director Paul Abbate said in a written statement. “From election administrators to volunteers to vendors and contractors, threats against any one individual is a threat against us all. The FBI’s mission is to protect the American people and uphold our Constitution, and protecting our democratic process is paramount. We take this responsibility seriously and will investigate any and all federal violations to the fullest.”

In June, the Brennan Center for Justice and the Bipartisan Policy Center issued a joint report highlighting threats against election officials. In the report, a survey of election officials found that one in three felt unsafe because of their job and nearly one in five listed threats to their lives as a job-related concern.

The report’s findings note that violent threats against election officials reached an “alarming” level in 2020 that was expected to continue this year. In response, the report’s authors made a series of recommendations — including the creation of state-level laws that provide greater personal security for election officials and workers — among others.

Another key solution outlined in the report suggests states should prioritize implementing processes to coordinate investigation and prosecution for individuals responsible for threats made against election workers. Further, the report’s authors note that disinformation campaigns conducted via social media networks have made election officials’ jobs more dangerous and difficult.

“In 2020, political actors ramped up the lies about election processes to try to influence election outcomes, often on social media,” the text of the report reads. “This disinformation has indelibly changed the lives and careers of election officials. Indeed, 78% of election officials surveyed by the Brennan Center said that social media, where mis- and disinformation about elections both took root and spread, has made their job more difficult; 54% said they believe that it has made their jobs more dangerous.”

The report suggests the Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency in conjunction with other agencies should create a directory of election officials for internet companies to consult in order to correct falsehoods on the elections they oversee. Another solution suggested in the report maintains that states should “explore structural changes to election administration to insulate election officials from political interference.”

That suggestion was made in response to a finding in the report that noted election officials are increasingly faced with pressure to prioritize “partisan interests” over the democratic process. The report references Trump’s Jan. 2020 phone call with Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger in which he pressed Raffensperger to find “11,780 votes” needed to defeat Biden in the state.

In August, TWN reported that Republican legislators in at least 14 states enacted 23 new laws this year that shift authority away from local election officials. Other measures were passed in at least 18 states that limit early and mail-in voting, establish new voter ID requirements and restrict the use of ballot drop boxes.

“To protect the electoral process for all voters, we must identify threats against those responsible for administering elections, whether federal, state, or local,” Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco said in a written statement. “A threat to any election official, worker, or volunteer is a threat to democracy. We will promptly and vigorously prosecute offenders to protect the rights of American voters, to punish those who engage in this criminal behavior, and to send the unmistakable message that such conduct will not be tolerated.”

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