Officials across the country are finally taking action against the consistent violence election workers are subject to. Since the 2020 election, hundreds of Donald Trump supporters have sent out threatening messages to election workers. As a result, at least three states have introduced bills to create stricter penalties for those who continue to do so, in addition to making it easier to prosecute offenders, Reuters reported.
Introduced in Vermont, Maine, and Washington State, the bills come after a Reuters report published last month in which more than 850 hostile messages were reportedly sent to U.S. election officials since 2020. Nearly all of the messages reiterated false claims that the presidential election was stolen due to voter fraud. According to the report, more than 100 of them met the standard of a “true threat,” or the federal threshold for a criminal prosecution, according to law professors and attorneys who reviewed them.
Each of the three states cited Reuters’ report and its finding in introducing the bills. While Washington State senators voted to make threatening election workers a felony this month, Vermont lawmakers are considering bills to make it easier to prosecute people who threaten election officials. According to Seattle news station KING-TV, the Washington bill has a penalty that could range as high as a five-year prison sentence and a $10,000 fine. Meanwhile, in Maine, the proposed legislation would strengthen penalties already in place.
“This is unacceptable,” Maine Secretary of State Shenna Bellows said in reference to the Reuters report. She added that at least two municipal clerks in Maine were threatened with violence.
“Whether it’s our staff, #VT Town Clerks, or election workers in other states, no one should have to face violent threats, intimidation or fear for their life while working on behalf of our democracy,” Vermont Secretary of State Jim Condo’s office tweeted Monday. According to the Brattleboro Reformer, Condo has received a series of horrific voicemails, including being threatened with execution by a firing squad.
“While these voicemails were the first that rose to the level of reporting to law enforcement due to the specific acts of violence mentioned and threatening nature of the calls, they are merely the extension of a pattern of vitriolic, often obscene, calls that our staff have had to endure during this election year,” Condo told the Reformer in December.
“Justice is coming,” one man said in an October message to Condo, according to Reuters. “All you dirty c‑‑‑suckers are about to get f‑‑‑ing popped. I f‑‑‑ing guarantee it.”
While prosecutions for these cases have been historically rare, a U.S. Department of Justice task force on election threats announced its first indictment on Friday, Reuters reported. The department charged a Texas man for posting online threats against three officials in Georgia.
The task force will work with the FBI, local law enforcement, U.S. Attorneys offices, and the election community in order to address ongoing threats and protect election workers.
“A threat to any election official, worker, or volunteer is, at bottom, a threat to democracy,” the task force said in June. “Election officials must be permitted to do their jobs free from improper partisan influence, physical threats, or any other conduct designed to intimidate. The Department of Justice has a long history of protecting every American’s right to vote, and will continue to do so.”
At this time, the criminal threats legislation has not drawn significant public opposition, although this is predicted to change once hearings begin.
Hearings on the legislation are expected to begin this month. While officials believe the legislation will not necessarily stop the threats, it is a step in the right direction. “We know that if we don’t make these changes, there’s no chance anything will happen,” state Sen. Richard Sears told Reuters.
Violence connected to Trump supporters is not a new topic. Even before the 2020 election Trump supporters consistently used violence to threaten anyone who opposed their views. Reports by multiple outlets last year found more than 50 cases that specifically cited Trump as the reason behind a violent action. Hundreds of others were designated as being inspired by Trump even though the perpetrator did not directly say Trump’s name during the attack.