The case illustrates the glaring gaps in the protection that U.S. law enforcement provides the administrators of American democracy amid a sustained campaign of intimidation against election officials and staff. The unprecedented torrent of terroristic threats began in the weeks before the November election, as Trump was predicting widespread voter fraud, and continues today as the former president carries on with false claims that he was cheated out of victory.
In an investigation that identified hundreds of incidents of intimidation and harassment of election workers and officials nationwide, Reuters found only a handful of arrests.
Local police agencies said in interviews that they have struggled to identify suspects who conceal their identities and to determine which threats are credible enough to prosecute. The U.S. Justice Department has acknowledged that law enforcement has not responded well to the surge in threats to election officials.Report ad
“The response has been inadequate,” John Keller, a senior attorney in the DOJ’s Public Integrity Section, told a meeting of secretaries of state in Iowa on Aug. 14. Keller heads a task force created in July to investigate threats of violence to election workers and to coordinate with local and state authorities that receive most initial reports of intimidation.
After this story was published, Justice Department spokesman Joshua Stueve issued a statement to Reuters about the wave of threats. “The Justice Department is committed to aggressively addressing threats of violence directed toward state and local election workers and will work tirelessly with our federal, state, and local partners to strengthen our collective efforts to combat this recent and entirely unacceptable phenomenon,” Stueve wrote.
The Reuters investigation revealed a breakdown in coordination and accountability among various levels of law enforcement. Some election officials fumed that police investigators or federal agents didn’t appear to take the threats seriously and that it was unclear which agency, if any, was investigating. Some said they never heard from investigators again after reporting threats of violence. When pressed about the status of some cases, several police officials said they had no involvement and pointed to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). Federal officials, by contrast, bemoaned a lack of information-sharing by local authorities.
Through public records and interviews, Reuters documented 102 threats of death or violence received by more than 40 election officials, workers and their relatives in eight of the most contested battleground states in the 2020 presidential contest. Each was explicit enough to put a reasonable person in fear of bodily harm or death, the typical legal threshold for prosecution.