Funding, education and legal safeguards are needed to protect democracy’s frontline workers
Sacramento, CA -- A new California Voter Foundation report sheds light on the threats and attacks U.S. election officials have endured in the wake of the 2020 election.
“Documenting and Addressing Harassment of Election Officials” features findings gathered through interviews with eleven election officials from six states along with eight of the nation’s leading election experts.
The report finds that ten of the eleven officials interviewed endured death threats, other threats or abusive language. The report is available online at www.calvoter.org/harassment.
“While many have put the last election in the rear-view mirror, election officials are still being attacked,” said Kim Alexander, California Voter Foundation (CVF) president and founder. “These attacks are driving a disturbingly high number of our democracy’s frontline workers to leave their positions. In California, 15 percent of election officials have already resigned and more may follow.”
Officials interviewed for the report are not identified and were selected for their perspective and experiences of harassment. The report is authored by Grace Gordon, a UC Berkeley Master of Development Practice graduate who conducted her research under the guidance of Alexander and Cathy Darling Allen, CVF’s board chair and County Clerk and Registrar of Voters for Shasta County, CA.
Four of the eleven officials interviewed reported receiving explicit death threats. Some election officials described attackers threatening to inflict harm upon their family members. Election staff members have also been harassed and threatened. The report includes direct quotes from election officials and contains a trigger warning for readers that the content is violent and may be disturbing. Nearly all threats were received by phone calls or voicemail.
With women accounting for over 75 percent of local election officials, the report also explores the relationship between misogyny and harassment in the threats and abuse of election officials.
Several officials reported an insufficient response from law enforcement to death threats and other threats they received. Most of the election officials and experts interviewed cited lack of funding for election offices as a major concern.
“Election administration is chronically underfunded and under-resourced, which contributes to election officials feeling at risk and undervalued,” said Darling Allen.
Several recommendations for addressing harassment are detailed in the report and include decreasing the impact of mis- and disinformation by strengthening public education, increasing funding to support election administration and expanding legal and law enforcement protections for election officials.
“We are at risk of losing the vast institutional knowledge required to conduct free and fair elections in the U.S.,” Alexander warned. “By shining a light on the suffering and pain inflicted upon our election officials, we hope to motivate lawmakers, law enforcement, philanthropists, and the nonprofit and academic sectors to work together to safeguard this mission critical role in U.S. elections.”
The California Voter Foundation is a nonpartisan, nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization working to improve the voting process to better serve voters. Release and distribution of this report is supported by a generous contribution from Craig Newmark Philanthropies.
The California Voter Foundation is hosting a webinar on June 9th to share report findings and recommendations.
Registration is free and open to the public; a recording of the webinar will be featured on CVF's website after the event.