Op-ed: Elections Officials Deserve Our Immediate Protection

Across the country, elections officials face unprecedented attacks. In Fulton County, Ga., the elections director received a voicemail that said he’d “better run,” with a threat to execute him. In Arizona, the secretary of state received terrifying threats to her safety. One woman left her a voicemail saying, “You will never be safe in Arizona again.” In Vermont, a man approached a group of elections officials and delivered an ominous threat: “Your days are f***ing numbered.”

No matter where you fall on the political spectrum, we all can agree that no one should be threatened for volunteering his or her time to make sure every American can exercise their right to vote. But unfortunately, these threats are not isolated incidents — they are indicative of a concerning trend: America’s elections officials are under attack. As they perform a critical service for our democracy by ensuring that our elections run smoothly, these officials now must fear for their safety and that of their families. 

According to the Brennan Center for Justice, one in three elections officials feel unsafe because of their jobs and one in five listed threats to their safety as a job-related concern. In addition to new safety concerns, these public servants face unprecedented levels of disinformation about elections and increased pressure to place partisan interests above all else. It’s a frightening time to be an elections official. 

Given these challenges, it’s no surprise that many accomplished officials are choosing to leave their jobs. This reality is deeply concerning for the future of elections in our country.   

America’s elections depend on these dedicated public servants who live in our communities and are at the frontlines of our democracy. These individuals — our neighbors, community leaders, church members, seniors and so many others — administer our elections, register Americans to vote, provide ballots to voters, help voters navigate how and when to vote, and ensure our democracy runs the way it should. They are vital to our participatory democracy.  

That’s why the Voter Participation CenterWhen We All Vote, and the Southern Poverty Law Center Action Fund are calling on Congress to immediately pass the Election Worker and Polling Place Protection Act, which would increase and strengthen desperately needed protections for elections workers.  

Specifically, this legislation would expand and clarify protections for elections officials to cover other individuals involved in the democratic process, including volunteer workers and families of elected officials. It would prohibit threats to elections officials’ property and the intentional damaging of polling places and tabulation centers. This bill would be a meaningful step forward for our elections officials. 

We see firsthand how the work of these public servants — many who volunteer their time — is integral to America’s democracy and are deeply grateful for their vital service to civic engagement. From instilling public confidence in a fair, transparent system to interacting with voters of all political stripes to running complicated elections with limited resources, we cannot overstate the importance of this nonpartisan work by elections officials and poll workers. 

As major civic engagement organizations, we want to draw attention to the safety of elections administrators and come together to support our elections officials. They deserve increased civility and respect. Protecting our elections officials is one of several critical issues related to voter access that must be addressed to strengthen our democracy. As a country, we must do everything we can to protect these devoted public servants and our elections system.  

The Department of Justice has taken a critical step in protecting our democracy by creating a task force to address the rise in violent threats against elections officials. We urge this task force to act swiftly and decisively to identify and address threats to officials. There is also a real need right now for engaged citizens to sign up to be poll workers in their communities. Visit the U.S. Election Assistance Commission to find out how you can help your neighbors vote this year and help keep our democracy strong.  

This is not a red or blue issue. Let’s work together to protect all elections officials, to return civility to the process of voting, and commit to strengthening our democracy and those who manage the process. 

Tom Lopach is president and CEO of The Voter Participation Center and the Center for Voter Information

Stephanie Young is executive director for When We All Vote

Fred McBride is senior policy adviser for voting rights and civic engagement at the Southern Poverty Law Center Action Fund