By Linda So
WASHINGTON (Reuters] – In response to a Reuters investigation on threats against election officials, a U.S. senator proposed legislation to increase the protections of election workers, their family and polling sites.
The Election Worker and Polling Place Protection Act aims to make the workers who help administer America’s elections safer — from officials to volunteers and the contractors who set up and maintain voting equipment. Protections for family members and friends of elected officials would also be provided.
Jon Ossoff (Georgia Democratic Senator) sponsored the measure. He cited two recent Reuters reports that alleged threats to physical injury and death against poll workers in all parts of the country. These were senior officers as well as volunteers, along with their family members.
The barrage, fueled by former President Donald Trump’s ceaseless false claims that the 2020 vote was stolen, has continued nearly a year after the November election. In response to threats there have been only four arrests and no convictions.
“Threats of violence targeting election officials and polling places are threats against our Constitution and the right to vote,” said Ossoff, 34, elected this year. “At this moment of peril for our democracy, my bill will strengthen federal laws protecting election workers and polling places from violent threats and acts of violence.”
Although the measure currently has no cosponsors, Ossoff’s spokesperson said that Ossoff will be seeking bipartisan support. The Senate, House of Representatives, and conference must all pass the hurdles before legislation is considered law.
A June 11 Reuters story https://www.reuters.com/investigates/special-report/usa-trump-georgia-threats revealed death threats against Georgia election officials and their families including Tricia Raffensperger, wife of Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, a Republican who refuted Trump’s baseless voter fraud claims.
A second Reuters investigation https://www.reuters.com/investigates/special-report/usa-election-threats-law-enforcement published on Sept. 8 documented more than 100 threats of death or violence against election workers that started before the November election.
Anyone who threatens and harms electoral workers or infrastructure may be subject to a penalty and upto a year in jail under the new legislation. The penalties for threatening to use a dangerous weapon, or cause serious bodily harm could be even more severe.
The new law could be more effective than the existing laws in federal or state courts. This legislation extends protection to more individuals, such as relatives, contractors and vendors, who help with the administration of elections.
Both lawmakers and the U.S. Department of Justice have been focusing their attention on unprecedented threats to election personnel. In June, they announced that a task force was being formed to look into threats. In addition to Ossoff’s legislation, Democratic lawmakers in the House and Senate introduced a separate bill in June https://www.reuters.com/world/us/us-lawmakers-seek-protect-election-workers-after-reuters-investigation-2021-09-10 that would make it a federal crime to intimidate, threaten, coerce or harass an election worker.
These bills are part of broader reforms that Democratic legislators in Congress seek to maintain voting access and combat a wave new Republican-written voter restrictions in the United States.
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