States move to protect election workers amid threats

Nearly a dozen states are considering new ways to ensure that those who plan and run elections are safe from threats or harassment.
New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D) (AP Photo/Morgan Lee)

Nearly a dozen states are considering new ways to ensure that those who plan and run elections are safe from threats or harassment as the number of incidents in which poll workers and election administrators are targeted continues to rise.

New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D) signed a bill late last month making intimidating an election employee — from the secretary of state’s office to a poll worker — a felony. Unlike the expansive voting rights bill she signed the same day, the election worker protection bill glided through both chambers.

“It’s important that states take action to protect our elections professionals and volunteers at all levels so that we can sustain our democracy,” New Mexico Sen. Katy Duhigg (D), the bill’s sponsor, said on the Senate floor in February.

The New Mexico legislation comes after Colorado, Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont enacted laws last year making it illegal to harass or intimidate an election official, according to the NCSL. 

Similar bills have been introduced this year in Arizona, Indiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Michigan, New York, Oklahoma, Texas, and Wyoming.

The bills vary, though many include increasing the criminal penalties for intimidation or harassment, and guarding against the personal information of election officials and their families being posted on the internet, known as doxxing.

To emphasize the importance of the issue in the swing state, Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson (D) held a press conference in January with state legislators to announce their push to strengthen protections. “We must do more to protect the people who protect democracy,” Benson said then.

A month later, state House Democrats rolled out a legislative package that would, among other goals, make the harassment and intimidation of election workers a felony. Like most of the bills in other states, it is still pending in the legislature.

Those bills have become necessary after repeated disinformation campaigns launched by former President Donald Trump, his allies and acolytes. Several prominent candidates ran for Senate seats and governorships in last year’s midterm elections on platforms questioning the previous presidential contest, raising unfounded, unproven or disproven conspiracy theories about their own elections even before the votes were cast.

Trump’s sustained efforts to undermine confidence in elections had a demonstrable impact. The Department of Justice launched a task force in July 2021 in an effort to combat election worker threats stemming from Trump’s loss.

In a briefing with some 750 election officials and workers a year later, the department said it found that more than 100 of the 1,000 reports of “hostile or harassing” behavior against the election community warranted a federal investigation.

The National Association of Secretaries of State has condemned the threats against election workers, and the National Association of Counties has called on Congress to pass a law strengthening protections. 

The House and Senate failed to advance those protections. 

This story was updated to add Massachusetts to the list of states where legislation was introduced.