Unlike lawyers, judges, and legislators, county sheriffs have extensive powers to investigate any allegations, seize documents and voting machines and, if they deem necessary, use force or threats of force to gain compliance.
In many regions, especially more rural areas, sheriffs are enmeshed in the voting process, in charge of securing voting locations and protecting ballots when they are transported to be counted. Throughout the country, they also exert a great deal of control over whether people held in jail have access to ballots. The United States also has a long history of sheriffs and others in law enforcement committing egregious acts of violence against Black voters—hence why many recoiled when Trump vowed to send sheriffs and other cops to watch the polls.
Trump-aligned sheriffs who target election administrators compound pressures that have been driving people out of the profession. The Big Lie has ratcheted up misinformation around local elections systems, driving up threats and harassment against local election workers. According to a recent poll of election workers by the Brennan Center for Justice, one in five say they will probably quit before the 2024 presidential election.
Many of the officials who will be in power during the next presidential race will be decided in the 2022 midterms, when voters in more than 1,000 counties will elect their sheriffs. Schmaling himself is up for re-election this year in Racine County, a swing county just south of Milwaukee that twice voted for Barack Obama before narrowly voting for Trump in the last two presidential elections. (Wisconsin’s filing deadline is in June, and local elections can be late to take form.)