US ‘Potential crisis for democracy’: Threats to election workers could spur mass retirements
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SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — Health officials and experts in Asia have welcomed U.S. plans to share 500 million more doses of the Pfizer vaccine with the developing world, but some say it would take more than donations alone to address huge vaccination gaps that threaten to prolong the pandemic. President Joe Biden was set to make the announcement Thursday in a speech before the start of the Group of Seven summit in Britain. Two hundred million doses — enough to fully protect 100 million people — would be shared this year, with the balance to be donated in the first half of 2022, according to a source familiar with the matter who confirmed the news of the Pfizer sharing plan.
State and local election offices fear they are set to face a wave of retirements and resignations after confronting the dual burdens of a pandemic and a rise in conspiracy-fueled threats.
A— the people responsible for running polling places, maintaining voter rolls and counting and certifying the results of elections — found that roughly one-third were either very or somewhat concerned about “being harassed on the job” or “feeling unsafe at work” during the 2020 election cycle. Nearly 4-in-10 respondents in the survey, which was conducted by the Brennan Center for Justice and Bipartisan Policy Center, reported the same level of concern about “facing pressure to certify election results.”
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Election workers and watchdogs say that after these officials preserved the integrity of the 2020 election despite enormous pressure from former President Donald Trump and allies, the climate could kick off a “brain drain” in their field that would pose a threat to the administration of future elections if longtime election workers are replaced by those with less experience — or by believers in the conspiracy theories about the 2020 results Trump and his allies promote.
“What is normally a fairly obscure administrative job is now one where lunatics are threatening to murder your children,” said Al Schmidt, one of the three members of Philadelphia’s city board of elections. Schmidt, a Republican, announced in January that he will not seek reelection to his post in 2023. “That is not something anyone anticipates or signs up for.”
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There is no shortage of job openings for local election officials in Michigan. It's the same in Pennsylvania. Wisconsin, too. After facing threats and intimidation during the 2020 presidential election and its aftermath, and now the potential of new punishments in certain states, county officials who run elections are quitting or retiring early. The once quiet job of election administration has become a political minefield thanks to the baseless claims of widespread fraud that continue to be pushed by many in the Republican Party. The exits raise a pressing question: Who will take these jobs? Barb Byrum, clerk of Ingham County, Michigan, has an idea.
The decentralized nature of American elections means that there is no body or agency tracking election worker retirements right now. But conversations with a half-dozen experienced officials, as well as reporting on growing vacanciesand , points to many headed for the doors.
“It's a big challenge and, I think, a potential crisis for democracy,” said Lawrence Norden, the director of the election reform program at the Brennan Center, a left-leaning think tank. “The real question is: Who replaces them when they leave?”
Retirements after an election are normal for administrators, especially after running a presidential vote. But the aftermath of the 2020 election has felt different to experienced administrators — most notably because of the threats election workers are still facing.
Schmidt said he already decided before this election to not run for another term as commissioner in 2023, but the threats he has faced“certainly confirms for me that it was the right decision.”
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“I think that the big danger here is especially if those positions — which, again, are typically pretty obscure — are targeted to replace those professional election administrators with partisan political operatives whose job it is to undermine confidence” in the electoral system, Schmidt continued.
Protests have become more common as well. Florida’s local election supervisors met this week in Tampa at their semiannual conference. The conference, which sometimes delves into highly technical issues, usually attracts little attention.
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This year, it attracted several dozen pro-Trump protesters complaining that election laws in Florida, which Trump carried twice, are too lax. Standing outside the downtown Tampa hotel hosting the conference, they held signs that read “Stop the Steal” and “Donald Trump won.” One shouted on a bullhorn that everyone attending the conference was “un-American” and that Florida should end mail-in voting, a decades-old practice that has long been popular and widely used among state Republicans — including Trump himself.
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The effort unnerved some attendees at the conference, who talked about getting threats and witnessing a spike of conspiracy-laden phone calls from voters echoing Trump’s rhetoric about the 2020 election.
Craig Latimer, the elections supervisor for Tampa’s Hillsborough County, said there are people who just refuse to accept what happened in 2020. “People have a First Amendment right, but there’s people that are still buying into false statements that are out there about machines as well as about elections,” said Latimer, a Democrat.
The increase in threats has also caught the attention of the Department of Justice.
“We have not been blind to the dramatic increase in menacing and violent threats against all manner of state and local election workers, ranging from the highest administrators to volunteer poll workers,” Attorney General Merrick Garland said in a speech last week. “Such threats undermine our electoral process and violate a myriad of federal laws.”
The report from the Brennan Center and Bipartisan Policy Centerto protect election workers, including advocating for the Justice Department “to prioritize identifying, investigating, and prosecuting threats against election officials and workers” and for states to better fund security measures for workers. The report also suggested that election professionals better organize themselves to focus on educational and lobbying efforts, to give a diffuse industry more of a voice.
Nearly 1 in 3 election officials feel unsafe because of their jobs, a new survey shows
A new report highlights the threats to America's election workforce in the ugly aftermath of the 2020 presidential election. © Megan Varner/Getty Images Gwinnett County election workers handle ballots as part of the recount for the 2020 presidential election at the Beauty P. Baldwin Voter Registrations and Elections Building on November 16, 2020 in Lawrenceville, Georgia. And about one in six election workers who responded -- about 17% -- have received threats, according to the survey of 233 election officials on behalf of the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University's Law School.
The think tanks also suggest structural changes that would protect election workers from partisan pressure, along with internet companies cracking down on misinformation that could harm public trust in the election system.
Election administrators are also concerned about new laws in several states that exposed election officials to more criminal and civil penalties for wrongdoing. A bipartisan pair ofwarned in a New York Times essay that the laws could be used to intimidate election officials or punish them for honest mistakes.
“The people that are involved in elections are civic-minded individuals who just want to be part of a democracy, to make it fair and equitable. Nobody’s there for the pay,” said Roxanna Moritz, a Democrat who recently retired early from her position as Scott County, Iowa’s chief elections official,. “I think that the criminalization in these states are going to cause people to say ‘Okay, it’s time for me to leave. I could make a mistake.’”
On top of these factors, many election officials are approaching retirement age. Another recent survey of more than 850 chief election officialsfound that almost 35 percent are eligible to retire before the 2024 election, and about 45 percent of those eligible saying they’re planning to do so.
Election officials have long had concerns about refreshing the field’s aging workforce, a difficult recruiting task even under normal circumstances thanks to relatively low pay and unwieldy hours.
“I’ll confess, I don’t know what to expect in terms of the caliber of the candidates” running for local positions, said Kentucky Secretary of State Michael Adams, a Republican, who noted that thus far there hasn’t been many exits by local administrators in his state. “I don’t know if the experience of 2020 made good people want to run for that job, or made them not want to run for that job.”
Gary Fineout contributed reporting from Tampa, Fla.
Call it authoritarianism .
The Republican Party has embraced an agenda that rigs the rules in their favor. There’s a name for that behavior.Blocking an inquiry into the January 6 attack on the Capitol, embracing Trump’s “Big Lie” that the election was stolen, making it easier for partisans to tamper with the process of counting votes: These are not the actions of a party committed to the basic idea of open, representative government.