America should honor our election workers this Labor Day
The alarming uptick in harassment and threats against election workers, sparked by the Big Lie about the 2020 election, is a threat that Congress must do more to counter.
We should take a moment this Labor Day to honor those Americans who have been targeted, harassed and even threatened with violence over the last two years for simply doing their jobs: the nation’s election workers.
At least hundreds, if not thousands, of state and local election officials and workers across the country have been harassed and intimidated as a direct result of the “Big Lie”— that the 2020 presidential election was “stolen” by Joe Biden. Thankfully, there have been very few such threats against election workers in the Chicago area, spokespersons for the Chicago, Cook County and DuPage County boards of elections told us.
But in other states, especially swing states that Donald Trump won in 2016 but that voted for Biden in 2020, the harassment is all too real. And it has taken a toll on election workers, whose job is absolutely vital to the cornerstone of our democracy: voting, in elections that Americans can trust are conducted with fairness and integrity.
These threats are “at bottom, a threat to democracy,” as Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco wrote in a June 25, 2021, memo establishing a federal Election Threats Task Force to investigate the alarming uptick in election worker threats.
The task force has since reviewed over 1,000 harassing or hostile contacts reported by election workers, most of them in states where 2020 election lawsuits based on the Big Lie were filed. Of the incidents that were reviewed, 11% were deemed serious enough to warrant a federal criminal investigation. Five individuals have been charged with threat-related crimes, and more such prosecutions are expected.
The task force numbers do not include incidents that were investigated by states. Overall, the numbers could well be an undercount of threats that are helping to drive an exodus of election workers, as suggested by a national Brennan Center for Justice survey earlier this year.
One in six local election workers in the survey said they had experienced threats since the 2020 election, but fewer than half of those incidents were reported to law enforcement. One in three workers said they knew at least one colleague who had left the job recently, citing, in part, safety concerns over threats and intimidation.
Those who quit, as the Bipartisan Policy Center, a Washington, D.C.–based think tank, points out, “will inevitably be replaced by less experienced workers who are more likely to make errors, which could undermine public confidence in the election process and create an environment ripe for conspiracy.”
With the midterm elections just two months away, and the 2024 presidential election on the horizon, America cannot risk allowing absurd and dangerous conspiracy theories to undermine public confidence in voting.
Nearly 80% of workers surveyed by the Brennan Center said the federal government should do more to protect them from threats. Yet legislation to address election worker security — by, for example, increasing penalties for harassment or intimidation and creating stronger privacy protections for workers and their families — remains stalled in Congress due to lack of GOP support.
We urge lawmakers who support these bills not to be deterred. Continue the push. Protecting election workers is a necessary step that will help strengthen our nation’s election system against those willing to look away from threats for the sake of political gain.
We also support recommendations made by the nonpartisan Alliance for Securing Democracy, which has suggested 10 sensible steps state and local governments can take to to retain election workers, such as increasing pay and advocating for consolidating elections to no more than three per year to reduce workload and work-related stress.
Don’t just listen to us. Listen to Shaye Moss, the Georgia election worker who, along with her mother Ruby Freeman, was targeted with violent threats in 2020 because of lies, told by Trump and his election lawyer Rudy Giuliani, accusing her and her mother of election fraud.
“It’s turned my life upside down. I no longer give out my business card. I don’t want anyone knowing my name,” Moss told the House Select Committee on Jan. 6 in June. “I don’t go to the grocery store at all. I haven’t been anywhere at all. I’ve gained about 60 pounds. I just don’t do nothing anymore.”
“I second guess everything that I do. It’s affected my life in a major way — in every way,” Moss said. “All because of lies.” Moss eventually quit.
Protecting those who make it possible for us to vote, and to trust our elections, is part of maintaining our democracy as a model for the rest of the world.
The Sun-Times welcomes letters to the editor and op-eds. See our guidelines.