‘A madness has taken hold’ ahead of US midterms: local election officials fear for safety

By Dani Anguiano,
The Guardian,
October 27, 2022


Inside the office of the Shasta county clerk and registrar of voters, which runs elections for about 111,000 people in this part of far northern California, Cathy Darling Allen can see all the security improvements she would make if she had the budget.

“We have plexi on the counter downstairs for Covid but that won’t stop a person. It’s literally just clamped to the counters,” the county clerk and registrar said. For about $50,000, the office could secure the front, limiting access to upstairs offices, she estimated. Another county put bulletproof glass in their lobby years earlier, she knew, something officials there at one point considered removing, though not any more.

Elections offices didn’t used to think about security in this way, Allen said. Now they can’t afford not to.

Following Donald Trump’s refusal to acknowledge his defeat in the 2020 presidential election, Allen says the once low-profile job of non-partisan local election official has transformed in counties like hers. A culture of misinformation has sown doubt in the US election system and subjected officials from Nevada to Michigan to harassment and threats. The FBI has received more than 1,000 reports of threats against election workers in the past year alone.

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Residents in Shasta county have tried to intimidate election workers while acting as observers, crowding around Allen during a tense election night confrontation in June, and visiting voters’ homes while claiming to be a part of an “official taskforce”. In north-eastern California’s Nevada county, the registrar-elect had to take out a restraining order against residents who harassed her and pushed their way into her office, assaulting a staffer, she said.

“It’s really an unprecedented time,” said Kim Alexander, the president of the non-partisan California Voter Foundation, a non-profit organization that works on improving election processes. “A colleague recently referred to it as a sort of madness that’s taken hold.”

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Throughout California, small but vocal groups inspired by uninformed or malevolent actors, have been led to believe false narratives about how the state conducts elections, Alexander, of the California Voter Foundation, said, prompting the organization to make the safety of election workers increasingly a focus.

The group, along with the Brennan Center, recently sponsored legislation signed into law by the California governor that allows workers to keep their home addresses confidential.

“I never imagined when I started working on elections security almost 30 years ago that it would include the physical security of people who run our elections,” Alexander said.

But things have changed rapidly, she said. Her organization is trying to support election officials by providing de-escalation training and other resources to their offices. More help is needed, and has been for a long time.

“The chronic underfunding of election administration in the US is one of the conditions that led to the vulnerability of our election workers. If the offices weren’t understaffed and underresourced in the first place they would have more security,” she said.

California election offices were already challenged by back-to-back elections for the last few years, including 2021’s recall election of the governor. Months after that, Shasta county had its local recall election.

“We haven’t had a break in about five years,” said Allen, who is also on the board of directors for the California Voter Foundation. “None of my staff has been able to really disconnect – not for any length of time. I can’t even go to the top of Mount Lassen, where I know no one can get a hold of me.”

In the past, demystifying the election process with guided tours of the office and a walk-through of their procedures helped allay people’s fears, Allen said. This year, the office is attempting to fight against the tide of misinformation and disinformation with a steady trickle of good information publicized by her office through social media and webinars, she said, attempting to reach the voters they can. The county recently hired someone to work on voter education and outreach.

But as misinformation proliferates, there’s a growing contingency of people who won’t believe any message coming out of the office, she said. (Full Story)