Democratic-led states take steps to protect election workers

By Kelly Mena, CNN

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Get spat on.

Death threats.

Threatening phone calls.

These are not the expectations of election workers when they show up at the polls on Election Day, but they have become a regular occurrence amid the continued fallout from the 2020 election.

We covered this issue in a previous newsletter, but since then a handful of Democratic-led states have passed legislation to protect election workers, while a few others are considering similar bills.

Most of these measures deal with concealing the credentials of election workers and creating new criminal penalties for harassing them.

For example, Washington State Governor Jay Inslee signed a bill in late March that makes it a crime to harass election workers online. The new law also allows election workers and their families to hide their address if they are the target of threats.

A similar bill passed recently in Oregon, and the Maine legislature passed similar protections last week.

Meanwhile, lawmakers in California, Colorado and Vermont are considering bills along the same lines.

Supporters say such laws are needed as election workers continue to face an upsurge in threats and harassment. So far, two people have been arrested by the US Department of Justice for threatening workers. Last January, the DOJ said it had received more than 850 referrals about such possible crimes.

Those who support the laws also argue that the new protections would help strengthen the democratic process.

Many of these measures aim to protect not only the people who run the elections, but also the poll workers – those people who volunteer to work a few days a year for long hours and often for little pay. People who register as poll workers are usually local residents who want to do their part to help the election run smoothly. Poll workers tend to be older, according to an April 2020 Pew Research Center report, with the majority of them 60 or older.

Maine State Rep. Bruce White, a sponsor of legislation in Pine Tree State who also volunteers as a poll worker, told Kelly that the atmosphere at the polls these years “seems a little tense and uncomfortable at times”. White hopes his legislation, which awaits the signature of Democratic Governor Janet Mills, will provide further relief to election workers.

“Some people say a law won’t stop someone from doing this. I don’t agree with that. I think when people know there are penalties, they’ll step back and say, you know, the consequences are different than if you just got a small fine,” White said.

As we previously reported, the surge in threats has led to a shortage of election workers, which Democratic state lawmakers hope the new laws will help address.

Many laws will be in effect between now and the general election in November, when many people vote in person with Congressional scrutiny at stake.

Prohibition of weapons in polling stations

It’s not just election workers that state lawmakers seek to protect. They also want to ensure the security of polling stations.

In Colorado, Democratic Gov. Jared Polis signed a law in late March banning the carrying of firearms within 100 feet of a polling place. Local election officials supporting the measure include Josh Zygielbaum, the Adams County clerk and recorder in suburban Denver. He told Kelly that he now wears a body armor to work due to security concerns.

“I never thought it would come to this. I thought my days of wearing body armor were over when I left the Marine Corps. The weirdest and hardest part is not not just not knowing if I’ll be coming home to my family at night, but when I give my kids a hug and a kiss and they ask me why I’m wearing it,” Zygielbaum said.

Similar legislation has been introduced in Michigan. At least 11 other states, including Arizona and Florida, as well as the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, already ban guns and other weapons at polling places, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

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