The last thing Daniel Anderl did on the last day of his life was answer the door of his family’s New Jersey home.
The last thing he saw was a man with a gun.
The last thing he heard were the screams of his mother, U.S. District Court Judge Esther Salas, as she ran to his side. The bullet that killed him had been intended for her.
“There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t realize my job cost me the life of my only child,” Salas told a session about safeguarding public officials at the NCSL’s 2023 Legislative Summit. The man who murdered her son and critically wounded her husband, Mark Anderl, committed suicide that same July day in 2020. The self-described “anti-feminist” lawyer had killed another attorney days before, and police say he had other targets besides Salas.
“There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t realize my job cost me the life of my only child.”
—U.S. District Court Judge Esther Salas
“He was stalking me for a while,” Salas says. “He knew my church, he knew my routes to work. He knew my son’s baseball games. He knew everything.”
Within months of the attack, the New Jersey Legislature passed Daniel’s Law, which protects the personal information of active or retired judges, prosecutors and law enforcement officers, along with that of their immediate family members. A similar law has been enacted on the federal level: The Daniel Anderl Judicial Security and Privacy Act specifically prohibits the selling, trading, transferring or purchasing of judges’ personal information online. It allows federal judges to request their information be taken down if it is publicly available and authorizes the U.S. Marshals Service to hire additional analysts, security specialists and other personnel to help prevent threats to federal judges.
“What it doesn’t do is painfully obvious,” Salas says. “It doesn’t cover the 30,000 state and local judges that also put their lives on the line to serve the public.”
Election officials face many of the same kinds of threats, which continue to grow as the 2024 election cycle gets underway, says Neal Kelley, chair of the Committee for Safe and Secure Elections. The 35-member committee is made up of experts in election administration and law enforcement who aim to support policies and practices that protect election workers and voters from violence, threats and intimidation.
“There are organized pushes against the system. And again, I advocate for transparency, but I don’t advocate for disruption,” says Kelley, who served for 17 years as registrar of voters for Orange County, Calif., the nation’s fifth-largest voting jurisdiction. “There are election offices around the country that only have one or two individuals in those offices. They do not have the time or the resources to dedicate to this. So, they need the support of our legislators, our local law enforcement, and our federal law enforcement.”
Threats and intimidation have resulted in turnover that means 1 in 5 election officials will be new in 2024, Kelley says, and they aren’t ready for the challenges they might face.
“We do not see the kind of interaction between local law enforcement and election officials that should be occurring at the local level. Many of the individuals I’ve talked to across the country haven’t even talked to the local sheriff,” he says. “And this is something that has to be done way in advance of the election. Sharing information, vote centers, polling places, election workers, information about the election itself, drop boxes if they’re in their state—all of that should be shared with law enforcement partners.”
Kelley says some of his colleagues in states such as Michigan, Pennsylvania and Georgia face vicious verbal threats to their lives and the lives of their families, and nearly half of election officials across country fear for their safety. Both Kelley and Salas recommended comprehensive sharing of information to track threats and create plans.
“When Daniel was on Earth, he gave Mark and my life purpose,” Salas says. “He still gives us purpose, but now he shines his light on others. That’s why I tell this story over and over again, and each time I do, it is salt on the wound that will never heal. Something has to be done, and it can be done—if we do it together.”
An Illustrator’s Take on the Session
Live illustrator Matt Orley attended the Summit 2023 session “Safeguarding Public Servants,” on which this story is based.
He interpreted the presentation and discussion in real time on a large poster board.
Lisa Ryckman is the associate director of communications at NCSL.
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