U.S. Sens. Michael Bennet and John Hickenlooper joined a team of Democratic lawmakers in sponsoring legislation to address threats made against election workers.
The bill arises from several efforts: A year ago, the U.S. Justice Department, responding to a rising number of threats against election workers, set up a task force to assess allegations of those threats and to prosecute when appropriate.
In Colorado, that task force obtained a conviction in June of a Nebraska man who made a phone threat against Secretary of State Jena Griswold.
Known as the Election Worker Protection Act, the bill, which was introduced a week ago with the backing of 17 Senate Democrats and the chamber's two independent senators, seeks to provide states with the resources to recruit and train election workers and ensure their safety, while also instituting federal safeguards to shield election workers from intimidation and threats, according to a joint statement from Bennet and Hickenlooper.
“Election workers deserve our respect for everything they do for our democracy. But in the past two years, they’ve faced an unprecedented rise in threats,” Bennet said. “This legislation expands resources for states to protect election workers, and, for the first time, makes efforts to threaten or intimidate election workers a federal crime.”
"Election workers upheld our democracy, despite intimidation and threats," Hickenlooper added. "They are often all that stands between free elections and attempts to subvert them. They must be protected."
The two senators said the act is supported by a bipartisan group of current and former election officials, including former Republican Philadelphia City Commissioner Al Schmidt, who testified before the Rules Committee last year about the threats he and his family received.
The measure would:
• Establish grants to states and certain local government for poll worker recruitment, training, and retention, as well as grants for election worker safety.
• Direct the Justice Department to provide training resources regarding the identification and investigation of threats to election workers.
• Provide grants to states to support programs protecting election workers’ personally identifiable information.
• Treat threatening, intimidating, or coercing election workers as a federal crime.
• Expand the prohibition on voter intimidation in current law to apply to the counting of ballots, canvassing, and certification of elections.
• Extend the federal prohibition on doxxing to include election workers. (Colorado already adopted a law in place to protect election workers from doxxing).
• Protect the authority of election officials to remove poll observers who are interfering with or attempting to disrupt the administration of an election.
The measure, S. 4920, has been referred to the Senate Rules and Administration Committee, an 18-member committee equally split between Democrats and Republicans.
Threats against election officers had unnerved Matt Crane, head of the Colorado County Clerks Association. Crane testified before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee in August that, in his 22 years in working on elections, "I have never seen these reckless claims happen on this scale and in the well-funded and coordinated way it is happening today."
Crane said he had surveyed Colorado's 64 county clerk members in late 2021 and found that about a quarter reported "fortifying their offices in some way, whether that was the addition of tinted bullet proof glass, more security around office access doors or other enhancements."
Others contacted their local county sheriffs about threats made against them, Crane said.
"These emerging and pervasive threats to election workers and the clerks that oversee that work are falling heaviest right now on Republican clerks," Crane said, saying there has been an uptick in alarming emails to actual physical threats.