Election officials who have faced threats back reforms ⋆

Election officials, including Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, told lawmakers Tuesday about death threats and other vitriol they have faced while operating elections, ahead of what they believe will be another contentious election cycle in 2024. 

They spoke at the House Elections Committee hearing in support of bills that would define intimidating or preventing an election official from performing their job as a felony, punishable by up to five years in prison and a $1,000 fine.

Like democracy, election workers are under assault with many fearing for the future

Benson recalled an armed protest outside her home in December 2020, following the election where former President Donald Trump lost the election to President Joe Biden. Benson said the protesters demanded she overturn the results of the election, in which Biden won Michigan by more than 154,000 votes. 

“There are times where I’ve put my kid to bed at night and then listened to a text message or voicemail on my phone saying that someone can’t wait to see me hanging by a tree,” Benson said. “It is all too horrific to hear these things and for simply doing our jobs. … Whether we be statewide or working in small towns… It’s imperative that the state of Michigan protects these civil servants who are simply trying to operate our elections in a transparent and accessible way.”

Election officials are already leaving their jobs due to rising violence, Lansing City Clerk Chris Swope said, adding that one of his closest friends in the clerking world left the profession due to harassment and intimidation. 

“I, myself, once received an email where someone threatened to ‘slit my effing throat’ if I emailed him again,” Swope said. “All I was doing was a reminder that he needed to return, multiple voters needed to return their ballot in advance of Election Day.”

HB 4129, sponsored by state Rep. Kara Hope (D-Holt), would create the specific prohibition on intimidating an election official. The bill defines an election official as officers or officials with election-related obligations. It defines intimidation, in this context, as harassment “that would cause a reasonable individual to feel terrorized, frightened, threatened, harassed, or molested and that actually causes the individual to feel terrorized, frightened, intimidated, threatened, harassed, or molested.”

HB 4130, also sponsored by Hope, would amend sentencing guidelines outlined in HB 4129 for a new felony “Intimidating an election official or preventing an election official from performing the election official’s duties.” This felony would carry a max penalty of five years of imprisonment and a $1,000 fine.

Sheri Ritchie of Pure Integrity Michigan Elections (PIME) speaks at a House Election Committee meeting in Lansing on September 12, 2023 (photo: Anna Liz Nichols)

Half of election workers who responded to a 2022 survey from the Brennan Center for Justice fear for their colleagues physical safety, while one in four respondents are concerned they themselves will be assaulted at work.

The survey adds 1 in 6 election officials have been threatened on the job and 77% threats have increased in recent years.

The bills go too far, Sheri Ritchie of Pure Integrity Michigan Elections (PIME), an election denier organization, said in opposition to the bills. 

“Michigan absolutely cannot start making people felons if someone else says that their feelings were hurt,” Ritchie said. “This sort of legislation can open doors for groups of people to be attacked for their beliefs. Poll watchers and challengers come to mind. Michigan already has laws preventing intimidation and assault and legal methods in place to handle difficult individuals at polling locations or anywhere else for that matter.”

The House Election Committee did not vote on the bills on Tuesday.



authored by Anna Liz Nichols
First published at https%3A%2F%2Fmichiganadvance.com%2F2023%2F09%2F12%2Fthreatened-to-slit-my-effing-throat-election-officials-who-have-faced-threats-back-reforms%2F

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