CNN is reporting that according to local officials, the FBI has increased its investigations into threats against election officials, in some cases reaching out for the first time in recent weeks to election supervisors and others who had faced months of abuse.
The activity derives from the formation earlier this summer of a Department of Justice task force to confront the growing threats against those officials. It also raises optimism among some election managers that individuals may be held accountable for the barrage of threats fueled by erroneous claims that former President Donald Trump’s 2020 election was stolen.
“I don’t think people should be able to call with impunity to say whatever they want and to make threats,” said Richard Barron, who oversees elections in Fulton County, Georgia, and has spoken recently with two FBI agents. “I hope they make some arrests.”
Barron said he and his employees received a barrage of threats and harassment following Democratic gains in the normally red state last year. He stated that he recently shared two death threats with local FBI officers, one of which was made earlier this summer and warned him that he “will be served lead.”
Claire Woodall-Vogg, executive director of the Milwaukee Election Commission, was also recently approached by the FBI. Woodall-Vogg said that she had received more than 150 threats in a recent CNN interview.
Following the airing of that interview earlier this week, Woodall-Vogg stated that she received another “very scary” email, which she submitted to the FBI.
In Arizona, another red-to-blue state, Bill Gates, a Republican member of the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors, claimed an FBI agent visited him in late August to address the wave of harassment and threats there.
On Friday, the Justice Department declined to comment on any specific, ongoing investigations.
However, DOJ spokesman Joshua Stueve stated that the department is “committed to aggressively addressing threats of violence directed toward state and local election officials and workers” and is working with federal, state, and local officials to “combat this recent and entirely unacceptable phenomenon.”
In a statement, John Keller, a top attorney in the DOJ’s Public Integrity section who heads the new election task force, said the agency has specially designated federal agents and prosecutors “in every jurisdiction in the country” to work on the issue, supplementing local and state authorities’ efforts.
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Officials with the Department of Justice said they’re looking for trends in the threats, such as if “common perpetrators” are targeting various election managers.
In July, the FBI and US Attorneys’ Offices received training on the subject. Late last month, top DOJ officials and FBI Director Christopher Wray met with over 1,400 election officials.
According to the authorities, any federal proceedings pursued by the Justice Department would most likely be filed under a slew of existing statutes dealing with issues such as utilizing the mail or “interstate communications” to make threats.
A new voting rights bill presented earlier this week by Senate Democrats would make intimidating election officials, workers, and volunteers a federal criminal punishable by up to five years in jail. (That bill is projected to fall short of the 60 votes needed to overcome a Republican-led filibuster in the Senate.)
David Becker, a former Justice Department lawyer who now runs the Center for Election Innovation & Research, said he has spoken with dozens of election supervisors this year and analyzed the communications they have received.
“They are credible threats, by any measure,” he said. “There’s no question in my mind if they were directed at the president of the United States, the Secret Service would be at someone’s door in 24 hours.”
However, Becker, who recently assisted in the launch of a network to provide free legal assistance to beleaguered election administrators, claims that the Justice Department has never faced a task like this before: establishing the federal infrastructure to deal with an avalanche of threats against those who run elections.
Becker said he has “a hard time remembering even one threat against an election official of this sort” during his career. “And we’ve seen hundreds of these cases in the last year.”
Some state authorities claim that they require even more federal assistance, including funds to monitor threats and provide security.
Kim Rogers, executive director of the Democratic Association of Secretaries of State, said her organization is considering helping to cover some of the security costs for the group’s election leaders.
“Without resources to monitor threats or provide security, the (DOJ) task force is of little comfort,” she said.
“We urge the Department of Justice to invest the resources needed to proactively monitor, report, and address threats,” she added. “Until then, we will continue to step up to ensure the safety of our secretaries.”
Threats against election workers, repeated misinformation about the 2020 election, and a rush of new laws in Republican-controlled states seeking to usurp election officials’ power have sparked fears of a mass flight of experienced officials from the election industry.
In a poll conducted this year by the liberal-leaning Brennan Center for Justice, nearly one-third of local election officials reported feeling dangerous because of their work.
“We don’t have much more time before the bullying and intimidation of election officials results in a mass exodus,” Becker said.
Gates is skeptical that the FBI’s increased action would result in arrests or change anyone’s behavior in Maricopa County, where someone recently mailed an orange jumpsuit to the county’s supervisors and threatened them with jail.
“Talk about whack-a-mole,” he said. “If they want to use social media or they want to use threatening voice mails or send us threatening emails, we’re not going to stop that.”
Instead, he said more of his fellow Republicans need to speak up and tell the truth about the 2020 election. “Tell people that No. 1: Joe Biden won and we need move on to the next election, but also, that it’s not right to threaten election administrators,” he said.
Gates added: “If more Republicans start speaking out, then we can move forward… The silence has been deafening from most in my party.”