By Mandy Zoch
Election officials across the country have been targeted by threatening messages with some explicit enough to “put a reasonable person in fear of bodily harm or death,” according to a Reuters special report.
This “campaign of fear” represents a sea change in elections. Before 2020, election officials were rarely in the news, perhaps even rarely known to the voters they served.
After the 2020 election is a different story. Reuters investigators found that many officials—from both sides of the aisle—continue to face harassment from distressed Americans who may not even live in the same state.
The increase in threats reveals an election administration environment more hostile and politically charged than ever before. What’s to be done to ensure that elections run smoothly in 2022 and beyond? There’s no easy answer, but a report from the Elections Group, "Running Elections Without Fear: Ensuring Physical Safety for Election Personnel," offers practical steps that election offices can take—such as building cooperative relationships with law enforcement and improving office security.
What about legislators—what can they do? This month’s issue of The Canvass takes a close look at legislation relating to local election officials. While only one bill addresses harassment directly, others concern training, responsibilities, penalties and statewide uniformity of election procedures.
A bill alone, however, might not be sufficient to assuage election officials’ fears or some voters’ suspicions. On that front, legislators might consider getting to know their local election officials and finding ways to work together, especially on transparency and voter outreach.
After all, there’s much that policymakers and policy-implementers can learn from the other—a subject discussed in detail at an NCSL Legislative Summit session earlier this month. Watch the panel, What Election Policymakers Wish Election Officials Knew—and Vice Versa.
If you’re in the mood for something different, the November Canvass also features an interview with Tennessee Senator Richard Briggs (R) and a roundup of news on election audits, hand recounts, new NCSL resources and more.
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Mandy Zoch is a project manager in the Elections and Redistricting Program.