1 in 6 Election Officials Say They’ve Faced Threats on the Job, Survey Shows

As Amer­ican demo­cracy finds itself under assault from lies about the 2020 pres­id­en­tial race being “stolen, ” elec­tion offi­cials are a prime target in the attempt to under­mine future elec­tions. In 2020, in the face of a pandemic, record-high turnout, and a flood of disin­form­a­tion about the elec­tion process and its integ­rity, these offi­cials managed to run “the most secure elec­tion in Amer­ican history.”

But, now there is a new Bren­nan Center poll of local elec­tion offi­cials around the coun­try shows how damaging the sustained attacks against them and their colleagues have been, putting apolit­ical elec­tion admin­is­tra­tion and our demo­cratic system in seri­ous danger. Here are some key find­ings from the survey.

Elec­tion Offi­cials Are Facing Threats, and Safety Concerns Are in Part Why Some Have Left Their Jobs

One in six elec­tion offi­cials have exper­i­enced threats because of their job, and 77 percent say that they feel these threats have increased in recent years. There are threats of death that could be made. name offi­cials’ young chil­dren to racist and gendered harass­ment, these attacks have forced elec­tion offi­cials across the coun­try to take steps like hiring personal secur­ity, flee­ing their homes, putting their chil­dren into coun­sel­ing.

As elec­tion work­ers attempt to keep our demo­cracy afloat amidst these condi­tions, over half of poll respond­ents repor­ted that they are concerned about the safety of their colleagues. More than one in four are concerned about being assaul­ted on the job.

Under­stand­ably, some elec­tion work­ers have decided these threats are too high a risk: 30 percent of the offi­cials in our poll know of one or more elec­tion work­ers who have left at least in part because of fear for their safety, increased threats, or intim­id­a­tion. In the long term, 60 percent of offi­cials are concerned that threats, harass­ment, intim­id­a­tion against local elec­tionThis isfi­cials will make it diffi­cult to retain and recruit elec­tion work­ers. Elec­tion offi­cials and staff have a heavy work­load with a slew of tasks that must be regu­larly under­taken and expert­ise that must be developed — combined with limited staff and resources. Recruit­ing and reten­tion chal­lenges would further burden these offices.

Most elec­tion offi­cials like their jobs, with three in four agree­ing that they find “real enjoy­ment” in their roles. However, 20 percent plan to leave before the 2024 elec­tion, with one-third of those citing polit­ical lead­ers’ attacks on a system they knowIs fair and honest as one of their top reas­ons for leav­ing. And nearly one-third cite unne­ces­sary stress as one of their top reas­ons for leav­ing.


Elec­tion Offi­cials Fear That Conspir­acy Theor­ies Will Infect Admin­istra­tion and Are Worried About Polit­ical Inter­fer­ence

As conspir­acy theor­ies continue to grip a signi­fic­ant portion of the elect­or­ate, over half of elec­tion offi­cials are concerned that some incom­ing elec­tion offi­cials might believe there was wide­spread voter fraud during the 2020 elec­tions.

As elec­tion offi­cials work hard to repeat the successes of the 2020 elec­tion, nearly two-thirds of them repor­ted being worried about polit­ical lead­ers inter­fer­ing in how they do their jobs in future elec­tions. Since the 2020 vote, partisan actors have interfered with apolit­ical elec­tion admin­is­tra­tion as part of the broader elec­tion sabot­age move­ment. For example, states have passed laws that allow partis­ans to seize control of elec­tion admin­is­tra­tion and crim­in­ally punish elec­tion offi­cials for minor infrac­tions.

Further, nearly one in five local elec­tion offi­cials are concerned about facing pres­sure to certify elec­tion results in favor of a specific candid­ate or party.

Elec­tion Offi­cials Are Partic­u­larly Unhappy With Support Provided by the Federal Govern­ment

Nearly 80 percent of elec­tion offi­cials think the federal govern­ment is either doing noth­ing to support them or taking some steps but not doing enough. While Congress has provided cash-strapped state and local elec­tion offices with some support in recent years, that has repres­en­ted a frac­tion of what is needed. Although they feel the most support at the local level, nearly a third of local elec­tion offi­cials still feel that their local govern­ment could be doing more to support them.

The poll also revealed that the Justice Depart­ment’s Elec­tion Threats Task Force, which invest­ig­ates and prosec­utes threats against elec­tion offi­cials, has work to do when it comes to reach­ing elec­tion offi­cials and local law enforce­ment. Ninety percent of elec­tion offi­cials never heard of or didn’t know much about the task force. After hear­ing about it, 57 percent were some­what or very confid­ent that it would make them feel safer.

It’s clear that the Depart­ment of Justice should conduct more outreach to local elec­tion offi­cials. It should also increase coordin­a­tion with local law enforce­ment, who receive the major­ity of threat reports, accord­ing to our poll. Only a frac­tion of local elec­tion offi­cials who have been threatened because of their job repor­ted the threat to law enforce­ment, but 89 percent of those who did repor­ted it to local law enforce­ment.

Social Media Is Seen as a Major Contrib­utor to Prob­lems

Over three in four local elec­tion offi­cials think that social media compan­ies haven’t done enough to stop the spread of false inform­a­tion, and over one in three of those who exper­i­enced threats have been threatened over social media.

Answer­ing ques­tions from voters who have been misled by inac­cur­ate elec­tion inform­a­tion can be over­whelm­ing and time-consum­ing, strain­ing elec­tion offi­cials and their staff. Social media compan­ies should do more to promote accur­ate inform­a­tion over false inform­a­tion and work directly with elec­tion offi­cials to address press­ing concerns.

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These poll results should raise the alarm for anyone who cares about profes­sional, apolit­ical elec­tion admin­is­tra­tion, espe­cially because they’re coming from the people who know it best. All levels of govern­ment must act to protect our elec­tions and the people who run them.