‘We’ll … kill you:’ Election workers get threats, warnings they’ll be lynched, US government says

by Madison Thomas
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election worker threats

Threats and Intimidation Target Election Workers: Justice Department Takes Action

In recent times, a disconcerting trend has emerged wherein election workers across the United States have been subjected to threats and intimidation. The Justice Department, recognizing the gravity of this issue, has taken steps to address these concerns through the formation of a specialized task force. Charged with curbing the alarming surge in violent and graphic threats directed at those responsible for overseeing and securing the electoral process, this unit has already made strides in bringing those responsible for such threats to justice.

Even during periods between elections that are typically characterized by calm, government employees tasked with upholding the integrity of the democratic process have found themselves inundated with threats. This unsettling phenomenon has garnered attention from secretaries of state and experts, who posit that factors such as baseless claims of election fraud and conspiracy theories propagated by former President Donald Trump and his allies have contributed to the toxic environment surrounding election workers. Concerns abound that the forthcoming 2024 election could intensify these threats, prompting a call for the Justice Department to enhance its efforts in safeguarding these crucial individuals.

The Justice Department’s dedicated task force, established in 2021 and led by its public integrity section specializing in investigating election crimes, aims to act as a deterrent against further threats to election workers. John Keller, the deputy head of this unit, emphasized the seriousness with which these matters are being handled, underscoring that both federal judges and the legal system are treating such misconduct with utmost gravity, ensuring that punishments align with the severity of the offenses.

This initiative has yielded results, as evidenced by the 14 cases filed by the task force thus far. Notably, two cases have resulted in significant prison sentences, serving as a strong indication of the commitment to quelling this disturbing trend. One case involved an Iowa man who faced a 2 1/2-year sentence for issuing a threatening message aimed at an Arizona election official, while a Texan individual received a 3 1/2-year sentence for suggesting a mass shooting targeting poll workers and election officials. These sentences highlight the tangible consequences for those who engage in such reprehensible behavior.

Election officials have been directly impacted by this wave of threats. Tina Barton, a former Republican clerk from Rochester Hills, Michigan, recounted an expletive-laden voicemail she received after the 2020 election, wherein she was warned that “a million plus patriots will surround you when you least expect it” and ominously told, “we’ll…kill you.” Barton’s experience underscores the gravity of these threats and their psychological toll.

Regrettably, this alarming trend shows no signs of abating. Prominent figures disseminating falsehoods about the legitimacy of the 2020 election and far-right websites publishing conspiracy-laden content continue to fuel these threats. While awareness of the issue has grown, action remains insufficient. Election officials stress the need for more robust prosecutions and enhanced measures to safeguard those who ensure the democratic process functions smoothly.

The task force’s endeavors align with Attorney General Merrick Garland’s assertion that the administration is unwavering in its commitment to safeguarding the electoral process. It is clear that fostering a functioning democracy necessitates a safe environment for those who administer elections, free from the specter of threats and violence. As the task force’s efforts continue, the nation watches with anticipation, hopeful that these essential workers can fulfill their roles without fear for their lives.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about election worker safety

What is the Justice Department’s role in addressing threats to election workers?

The Justice Department has established a task force to combat the surge in threats and intimidation faced by election workers. Led by the public integrity section, this unit aims to prosecute individuals responsible for violent and graphic threats against those who oversee and secure the electoral process.

How many cases has the task force filed, and what are the outcomes?

The task force has filed 14 cases, resulting in significant prison sentences for two individuals. An Iowa man received a 2 1/2-year sentence for threatening an Arizona election official, while a Texan individual received a 3 1/2-year sentence for suggesting a mass shooting targeting poll workers and election officials.

What factors contribute to the rise in threats against election workers?

Experts attribute the increase in threats to baseless claims of election fraud and conspiracy theories propagated by figures like former President Donald Trump and his allies. These claims have created a toxic environment, prompting concerns about the safety of election workers.

Are threats to election workers expected to continue?

Yes, there are concerns that threats may intensify, particularly as the 2024 election approaches. Experts anticipate that the climate of threats and intimidation could persist if adequate measures are not taken to address the issue.

How do social media and far-right websites contribute to these threats?

Threats often follow social media posts by prominent figures that propagate false claims about the 2020 election. Far-right websites also contribute by disseminating conspiracy-laden content that fuels hostility toward election workers.

What is the impact on election officials and workers?

Election officials report increased threats and harassment, leading to anxiety and concerns about their safety. Many are even considering leaving their positions, which could have consequences for the administration of future elections.

What actions has the Justice Department taken to safeguard election workers?

The Justice Department’s task force reviews threats and harassment reports, and it aims to prosecute cases that cross the threshold from free speech to “true threats” with a serious intent to harm. This demonstrates a commitment to safeguarding the right to vote and protecting election workers.

Is the task force’s work politically motivated?

While there have been accusations of political motivation in the Justice Department’s actions, the task force’s focus is on addressing threats and violence against election workers, regardless of political affiliation.

How can the public and election officials contribute to addressing this issue?

Prominent figures can help by refraining from spreading baseless claims and conspiracy theories. Election officials can also advocate for improved outreach, stronger prosecution efforts, and enhanced measures to ensure the safety of election workers.

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