United States: Misinformation fuels harassment against election workers

Burnout, worry, harassment… Polling station employees in the United States are suffering, especially since the 2020 elections. A trend that worries local officials, forced to renew their staff.

“We wonder when our turn will come. »

Since August, the county has had to respond to 220 requests for information about voting materials and voter lists, a record. And a misleading video claimed authorities in Loudoun kept photos of the ballots.

Within 24 hours, voters were arriving at the reception insisting on seeing the photo of their ballot to ensure that their vote had been correctly counted “, says Richard Keech, who has worked for more than ten years around the elections. ” This is how misinformation affects voters. »

In Arizona, individuals inspired by a hit conspiratorial film about the 2020 election have taken to monitoring the boxes where voters can drop off their ballots early. In other key states, the Republican Party recruited poll workers from groups promoting unfounded accusations of fraud in 2020.

Local officials claim that these maneuvers complicate their work and say they are worried about their safety.

We are concerned about what is happening in other counties from Pennsylvania, says Dori Sawyer, an election official from Montgomery County, in this east coast state. ” We wonder when our turn will come. »

“Threats” and “harassment”

The director of the federal cybersecurity agency, Jen Easterly, indicated in October that she had ” unaware of any specific or credible threats that could compromise or disrupt the electoral infrastructure “.

That said, the threats to this election are more varied than ever before. “, she nuanced, citing the possible “ harassment against election officials ” and the ” insider threats “.

After Donald Trump’s defeat in 2020, local officials were the target of much unwarranted criticism, to the point that some had to take shelter.

The Ministry of Justice has promised to crack down on such threats in the context of the midterm elections, but experts say they have already left their mark.

It escalated the tensions around the election in a way that I had never encountered before. “Said Tammy Patrick, of the NGO Democracy Fund and former electoral official of Arizona.

We’ve seen states where a quarter or even a third of election workers quit. »

According to Richard Keech, one-third of Loudoun County polling station staff have been hired this year. Other states have not replaced those who resigned after 2020, including the top election official in Fulton County, where Atlanta is located.

This relative inexperience could cause errors, which could then be presented as willful misdeeds, warn experts. Not to mention the risk of hiring people who deny the outcome of the 2020 election.

As soon as you hire a lot of short contracts at the approach of an electoral cycle, you automatically increase the possibility of internal risk. warns David Levine, researcher at the Alliance For Securing Democracy.

“Protect” democracy

Faced with these tensions, the procedures have sometimes been modified. ” We have again reinforced the security of our building “says Richard Keech. Loudoun County also has “ still consolidated » its ballot traceability methods.

In Montgomery County, Dori Sawyer said she attended security meetings with law enforcement, including the FBI, as a precaution.

When constituents call to express their concern, she reminds them that her teams are made up of “ real people “.

Explaining how important democracy is to her, she says: “ We have the possibility to write our own destiny. I think it’s worth protecting. »

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