‘People are scared’: Threats to midterm workers prompt police response across US
“Election workers regularly expressed their concerns. They saw the potential for violence across our nation. And now they’ve only seen a few people behaving in a way that’s intimidating or harassing on the ground here in Arizona,” said Paul Penzone, the sheriff of Maricopa County, Arizona, where gunmen have stationed themselves at the polls in recent weeks. “People are scared because they’re not sure what to expect.”
The FBI declined to answer questions about how many credible threats to election workers it is currently monitoring. But senior law enforcement officials said they received thousands of tips about threats — physical and cyber — to election workers between the summer of 2021 and June 2022.
It is a problem that has been simmering for a long time. Local law enforcement officials said they have received multiple reports a day for at least the past two months of election workers experiencing online harassment and physical threats, including threats to their families.
A federal law enforcement official said the FBI and Department of Homeland Security are devoting additional resources to investigating threats against election workers and politicians and communicating with local law enforcement about new leads.
“Election officials are followed home… with death threats as they leave office. You have election officials who have had protesters with guns show up outside their homes,” said Lawrence Norden, senior director of the Brennan Center’s Elections and Government Program. “I don’t discount the threats and attacks that we’ve seen against members of Congress … but we’re talking about people on a whole other level who … have very few resources.”
Penzone said he and his team have extra staff to protect polling places and boxes, including plainclothes officers who will patrol on Election Day. He described Arizona as the “wild, wild west” — an environment that could potentially encourage acts of political violence.
“There are a lot of weapons. Then you have factions that would be described as fringe factions that feel that if it’s not their way, then it’s the wrong way that are now emboldened to act against it or to question the institutions,” he said. “I have meetings every day with my team where we have a comprehensive, strong and very committed plan … just to make sure we get through this election.”
In Georgia, a key battleground state, officials have set up a survey response team — a group of people dedicated to reviewing reports of incidents that disrupt appointments.
“My big concern is not some organized conspiracy of people trying to do that. My big concern is some random lone wolf who’s not right in the head, who’s been fueled by all this disinformation and disinformation — they can do something without anyone knowing in advance,” said Gabriel Sterling, chief operating officer at the Georgia Secretariat. state office.
Sterling testified before a congressional committee on Jan. 6 in June about efforts by then-President Donald Trump and his allies to pressure local officials as they tried to overturn the 2020 presidential election. He said he was not currently aware of any credible, active threat to the Georgia election. .
Officials in Michigan are also taking new steps to secure polling places amid ongoing concerns about election-related violence. The FBI this week arrested two alleged members of the Boogaloo Boys, a far-right anti-government group. One of them, Timothy Teagan, appeared in federal court in Detroit this week on charges of drug possession and possession of firearms and ammunition. Teagan said documentary filmmaker Ford Fisher that federal agents asked him about “any violent plans or any violent tendencies that might arise in connection with the election.”
“Election officials and law enforcement are more prepared than ever before to immediately address any attempt to interfere or disrupt the election process or voter intimidation,” Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson told reporters at a briefing Thursday.
Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessell told POLITICO in an interview that she is working with state and federal law enforcement to identify potential threats in the state.
“Some things that happen in other areas don’t happen here,” she said, referring to the armed vigilantes at the ballot box. “I absolutely believe it is voter intimidation. We have very clear voter intimidation laws on the books. We have taken all possible measures to ensure that voters have a normal election day.”
Heidi Przybyla contributed to this report.
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