“Protecting American Democracy Is No Crime; New Laws Could Make Election Officials Legal Targets”

Must-read Larry Norden:

In the past 12 months, American election officials have been heralded for their courage and commitment in carrying out the most logistically challenging election in modern times—with record turnout, no less. They have also been attacked as villains by those who believe the Big Lie, that the election was somehow stolen from then President Donald Trump. Election officials—who before 2020 had been largely ignored by the Twittersphere and conspiracy theorists—became the targets of thousands of false accusations, protests at their workplaces, and even harassment and threats.

Such mistreatment is now taking a new and possibly even more sinister form. Legislation in several states proposes to strip election officials of their power to act on behalf of voters and to criminalize various actions they might take in the course of performing their duties. These bills add the danger of arrest and prosecution to already challenging working conditions. They should be beaten back by all who are committed to preserving American democracy.

The recently passed law in Georgia is just one example. The law has rightly been criticized for its suppressive provisions, such as one that makes it a crime for volunteers to provide in-person voters with water, even when they’ve been waiting in line for hours. Less noticed are provisions that take key powers away from election officials. SB 202 removes Georgia’s secretary of state—who stood up to Trump’s efforts to overturn the state’s 2020 results—from the position of chair of the state election board and turns control of the board over to the state legislature. That newly constituted board is in turn given more power to intervene in the activity of local election boards, including by removing and replacing local board members. Reasonable people can disagree as to what is the best structure of a state election board, but all should be opposed to retaliating against an office for its holder’s refusal to bend to inappropriate and extreme political pressure.

Other bills targeting election officials and workers have been introduced in at least seven states. In many cases, the new bills threaten these workers with criminal prosecution for conduct undertaken while performing their jobs. In March, for example, Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds signed a bill creating a slew of new crimes related to election officials’ work, including a catchall “failure to perform duties.” The law was enacted just days after threats to local election officials in her state had escalated beyond name-calling and online abuse: in early March, a live pipe bomb was found in a polling place open for a local election.

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