Escalating threats have led to an ‘exodus’ of election officials across the country, and calls for more protections for those who remain
Hoffman announced last week that she was resigning to take another job, saying her decision was motivated largely by “the nastiness that we have dealt with.” Hoffman said the county elections director left for the same reasons.
On Friday, an official with the US Department of Justice was scheduled to update state election officials gathered in Louisiana for their summer conference on the work of the task force that was announced in June 2021.
Three men have been charged by federal prosecutors, with one of them pleading guilty last month. In that case, Colorado Secretary of State Jena Griswold was the subject of multiple threatening posts on social media.
Griswold said the threats have not stopped. Just last week, a caller to her office’s public phone line said: “Hey, I’ve got a message for the secretary and I want you to pass it along. The angel of death is coming for her in the name of Jesus Christ.”
“The fact of the matter is they’ve only done three prosecutions when we know there are literally thousands and thousands of violent threats going to election workers and secretaries of state,” Griswold said. “People are using threats as part of the attack on democracy to try to intimidate election workers, to try to intimidate county clerks and secretaries of state, and they are succeeding in some places.”
Kenneth Polite, assistant attorney general for the department’s criminal division, said federal investigators were working through each report to determine which cases can be successfully prosecuted, noting challenges in attributing threats often made anonymously and weighing free speech protections. He said additional prosecutions are expected.
“The department is committed to protecting our election community from violence and threats of violence,” Polite said in a statement. “These are ordinary people from across the political spectrum filling a vital democratic role for our nation, typically with little recognition or support. “
In the first six months of the task force, members conducted over 20 training courses and outreach events on election threats with state, local, and federal law enforcement as well as election officials and social media companies.
A survey released earlier this year by the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU’s School of Law found one in three election officials knew someone who had left a job in part because of threats and intimidation, and that one in six had experienced threats personally.
Federal and state election officials and Trump’s own attorney general have said there is no credible evidence the election was tainted. The former president’s allegations of fraud were also roundly rejected by courts, including appointed by judges Trump.
Experts said it is critical that those making threats are held accountable to deter others from thinking they can do the same.
“The steps that the task force has taken, election officials are appreciative. But absolutely there is more to be done,” said Liz Howard, a former state election official in Virginia now at the Brennan Center.
Among the recommendations that the Brennan Center has made is to expand the task force to include state and local law enforcement agencies that are typically the first contact for an election official.
A group of former and current election and law enforcement officials recently formed the Committee for Safe and Secure Elections, which plans to provide guidance and training for preventing and responding to threats and violence against election officials.