Keeping Elections Safe
Hey, y’all! Long time no see - happy Friday.
This week, we’re going to chat about a pesky little issue that just won’t go away - threats to the safety and security of election administration.
(Jessica McGowan / Getty Images)
Okay, so, not such a little issue. Threats against individual election officials have increased dramatically since the 2020 election, when some politicians sought to politicize election administration and individual election administrations so that they could change the outcome of elections. Pretty undemocratic, huh?
How Bad Is It?
Y’all, we wish you would stop asking us that - we *hate* giving you bad news. A study commissioned by the Brennan Center found that, as of this summer, one-in-three election officials feel unsafe because of their job, and one-in-five listed threats to their lives as a “job-related concern”.
One of the main pathways for those seeking to undermine the legitimacy of elections runs through state legislatures. As of early October, the 2021 legislative session had seen more than 180 bills shifting election authority introduced in state houses across the country. These bills take three primary forms:
Some give politicians or other partisan actors more power to affect election outcomes, taking power from local, nonpartisan election officials;
Some empower partisan poll watchers, usually giving them more leeway to intimidate and harass voters; and
Some threaten election officials with legal action (like, felony prosecution-level action) for any amount (including accidental) of noncompliance with election rules.
When election officials aren’t safe, elections aren’t safe. Period. All voters have a fundamental right to cast their ballots safely and securely, and to be confident that that ballot will be counted. If threats to election administration continue down this path, it would be difficult to call elections safe, free, and fair.
And then there’s the issue of election officials leaving their jobs. In 2024, more than 35% of current election officials will be eligible for retirement. And as more and more election officials leave their jobs, the vacuum they leave is twofold:
The mass departure of seasoned, experienced election officials represents a massive loss of institutional knowledge, leaving new, inexperienced officials in their place;
From what we’ve seen so far, the vacancies left by departing election officials are *extremely* appealing to partisan actors with ulterior motives - people we can’t trust to administer elections fairly.
How We Can Help
We’re going to make a big ask of you guys: limit the spread of election-administration-related disinformation. Read: don’t retweet the crazy. We know: some of the stuff floating around online is crazy, and the temptation to quote-tweet and react in real-time is *very* real. But we also know that even a snarky quote-tweet does more harm than good - but even addressing disinformation leaves you spreading harmful misinformation.
There’s also action being taken at the legal level: a bipartisan group of attorneys have joined together to create an organization to protect and defend election officials. The Election Official Legal Defense Network connects election officials to attorneys on a pro-bono basis, providing them with legal assistance and advice on navigating new, stricter election rules and avoiding the harsh penalties that come with them.
So, yes -- this problem is real, and it’s scary. But it’s not unmanageable. And each and every one of us has the ability to address it within our own communities.
Thanks for reading, y’all! Talk soon.
“American history is longer, larger, more various, more beautiful, and more terrible than anything anyone has ever said about it.” – James Baldwin