More states fight back against threats to election workers

Election workers check in people as voters cast their ballots in Kennebunk, Maine, in November 2021.

By Fredreka Schouten, CNN

(CNN) -- Lawmakers in New Mexico are expected to take up a proposal that would make it a crime to intimidate election workers -- becoming at least the fourth state to consider new laws this year to confront the onslaught of threats against them.

The bill from state Sen. Katy Duhigg, a Democrat and a former Albuquerque city clerk, would make it a felony to "induce fear" in anyone working for state or local election agencies.

Lawmakers in at least three other states -- Washington, Maine and Vermont -- are considering measures that would criminalize threats against election workers or make it easier to prosecute offenders.

Election workers have faced a barrage of threats and harassment since the 2020 presidential election -- as former President Donald Trump and his allies have spread the falsehood that widespread election fraud contributed to his defeat.

In New Mexico, Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver told The Albuquerque Journal that she left her home for several weeks following the election after being bombarded with threats.

"The sad truth is that safe and fair elections are under attack," Duhigg said in an email. "The folks that work so hard to organize and pull off elections, from the Secretary of State to our County Clerks to poll volunteers and voters, should never be subjected to threats of any nature."

This week, the Justice Department proposed another tool to help protect election workers, telling states that they can use federal law-enforcement grants to "deter, detect and protect against threats of violence against election officials."

Election expert David Becker, who helps oversee a network that provides legal assistance to election officials, said the state proposals and Justice Department guidance are positive steps. But he called for broader efforts to protect the workers, including urging prosecutors to use existing laws to charge harassers.

So far, Democratic lawmakers have led the push to draft the new state proposals.

"Unfortunately, I don't see a lot of bipartisan agreement," Becker said. "This is affecting Republicans and Democrats alike."

And, he said, "they need a sense that government has their backs."

Officials have clamored for additional resources to monitor threats and provide security for months.

In Colorado, for instance, Secretary of State Jena Griswold, a Democrat, recently asked the state legislature to provide $200,000 annually for guards and threat-monitoring for herself and her staff.

The Justice Department last week charged a Texas man with allegedly threatening to kill election officials in Georgia -- the first charge to emerge from the agency's six-month-old task force focusing on threats against election officials.

A top department official told reporters last week that the DOJ has dozens of ongoing investigations into threats.

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