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Democratic-run states move to protect election workers

By Kelly Mena, CNN

A version of this story appeared in the CITIZEN BY CNN newsletter. To get it in your inbox, sign up for free here.

Getting spit on.

Death threats.

Threatening phone calls.

Those aren’t the expectations election workers have when they show up to work the polls on Election Day, but they have become a regular occurrence amid continued fallout from the 2020 election.

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

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

For example, Washington state Gov. Jay Inslee in late March signed a bill into law that makes it a felony to harass election workers online. The new law also allows election workers and their families to hide their address if they are targets of threats.

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

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

Proponents say such laws are necessary as election workers continue to face an uptick of threats and harassment. So far, two people have been arrested by the US Department of Justice for threatening workers. Back in January, the DOJ said it had received more than 850 referrals on 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 individuals who run elections but poll workers — those individuals who volunteer to work a handful of days a year for long hours and often little pay. People who sign up to be poll workers are usually local residents who want to do their part to help elections run smoothly. Poll workers tend to be older, according to a Pew Research Center report from April 2020, the majority of them 60 or older.

Maine state Rep. Bruce White, a sponsor of the legislation in the Pine Tree State who also volunteers as a poll worker, told Kelly that the atmosphere at polling places in recent years “does seem a little tense and uncomfortable at times.” White hopes his legislation, which awaits Democratic Gov. Janet Mills’ signature, will bring an added sense of relief to election workers.

“Some people say a law isn’t going to prevent somebody from doing this. I don’t agree with that. I think when people know that there’s penalties, they will take a step back and say, you know, the consequences are different than if you’re just getting a small fine,” White said.

As we previously reported, the spike in threats has led to a poll worker shortage, which Democratic state lawmakers hope the new laws will help to address.

Many of the laws will be in effect by the November general election, when many people will be voting in person with control of Congress on the line.

Banning guns at polling places

It’s not just election workers who state lawmakers are looking to protect. They also want to keep polling locations safe.

In Colorado, Democratic Gov. Jared Polis signed in late March a law that bans the open carry of firearms within 100 feet of a polling place. Local election officials supporting the measure include Josh Zygielbaum, the clerk and recorder of Adams County in the Denver suburbs. He told Kelly he now wears a bulletproof vest to work due to safety concerns.

“I never thought it would come to this. I thought my days wearing body armor were over when I left the Marine Corps. The strangest part and the hardest thing is not only not knowing if I’ll come home to my family at night but when I give my kids a hug and a kiss and they ask 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 firearms and other weapons in polling places, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

You should read

  • A look at how election deniers who continue to push falsehoods about the 2020 election have created a toxic political environment for local government in Green Bay, Wisconsin, from Politico.
  • This piece in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that spotlights how redistricting and new voting laws have scrambled preparations for the upcoming primary elections in one large Atlanta-area county.
  • This CNN exclusive story about Donald Trump Jr. texting then-White House chief of staff Mark Meadows ideas for overturning the 2020 election before it was called.

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