The Brennan Center for Justice at NYU Law and the Bipartisan Policy Center today published a report on the state of the election official profession and the toll of the unprecedented attacks on these officials’ authority, credibility, and personal safety that surged in the run-up to the 2020 election and have not stopped. The report features a survey finding that one in three election officials report feeling unsafe because of their job, and one in six reported having been threatened due to their job. The authors provide solutions for the various problems facing election officials, with calls to action for local, state, and federal governments as well as social media companies and other institutions.
“Threats of violence, smear campaigns, laws and lawsuits undermining election officials at every turn – this is what the professionals who uphold our elections and democracy are facing every day,” said Lawrence Norden, director of the Election Reform Program at the Brennan Center for Justice and co-author of Election Officials Under Attack: How to Protect Administrators and Safeguard Democracy. “The attacks will keep coming – and succeeding – unless there is a multipronged intervention across government and society to stop the purveyors of the Big Lie from making it impossible for election officials to do their jobs: conducting free and fair elections without partisanship.”
Election Officials Under Attack: How to Protect Administrators and Safeguard Democracy identifies four factors making election officials’ work more difficult and dangerous: threats of violence and other safety concerns; increased disinformation being spread about elections, especially online and often by public officials; rising pressure to prioritize party interests over a democratic process; and unsustainable workloads. For each problem, the authors present multiple, urgent solutions.
“The continued threats against election officials and attempts to undermine their independence months after the presidential election are antithetical to a free and fair democracy,” said Matthew Weil, director of the Election Project at the Bipartisan Policy Center. “There are reasonable, implementable solutions that will safeguard our elections going forward and the recommendations in this report are developed with the direct input and participation of election officials from across the country.”
The authors, election officials, and other experts will gather today online at noon ET for the Bipartisan Policy Center’s “Virtual Summit: Continuing Threats to Free and Fair Elections.” Please click here for more information or to RSVP. And click here to view a video that will be featured at the event, of election officials discussing their experiences firsthand.
Here is a selection from the report’s recommendations, listed by the type of challenge confronting election officials:
- Threats of violence against election officials and other safety concerns.
- The Department of Justice should create an Election Threats Task Force, which would work with federal, state, and local partners to provide expertise and resources to prioritize the investigation and prosecution of threats to election officials. (This could be an initiative housed in the Civil Rights Department’s Voting Rights Enforcement Unit, which Attorney General Merrick Garland announced Friday he was planning to expand.)
- States should pass laws to protect officials’ personal information and provide grants for officials to purchase home security equipment.
- Increased disinformation being spread about elections, especially online and often by public officials.
- The Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency should support the creation of a comprehensive directory of U.S. election officials, which could be shared with internet platforms so they can amplify accurate information from those officials.
- Social media companies should strengthen their efforts to push back against individuals who spread mis- or disinformation repeatedly, including by delaying posts of repeat disinformation spreaders to allow for vetting.
- Party monitors, who became sources of misinformation in 2020 about election procedures and the vote counting process, should be required to attend additional training and should be accountable for violating rules and spreading disinformation.
- Rising partisan pressure to prioritize party interests over a democratic process, such as former President Trump’s call to Georgia’s secretary of state.
- States should explore structural changes to election administration to insulate officials from attacks on independence, including protecting election officials’ scope of authority over counting and certifying elections, and guaranteeing a minimum level of funding for elections so that officials can resist political pressure without fearing they are risking the resources needed to do their jobs.
- States should create election administration advisory boards that include election officials and members who represent statewide officeholders, legislative leadership, voting rights organizations, and other stakeholders to foster effective communication and the depoliticization of election administration policymaking.
- Unsustainable workloads for current election officials and challenges recruiting future administrators.
- Election officials should leverage existing relationships with state and local election official associations which can help empower officials to improve working conditions and better impact election-related policy.
- Election officials can develop relationships with local colleges and universities to help build talent pools for future recruitment.
Election Officials Under Attack: How to Protect Administrators and Safeguard Democracy is based on dozens of interviews with election officials across the country about their experiences during the 2020 elections. These interviews were conducted by the Brennan Center and the Bipartisan Policy Center, with assistance from Harvard Kennedy School’s Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation.
Please click here to read the full report.