Election, law enforcement officials launch group to tackle threats to voting process

Written by Benjamin Freed

A group of 32 current and former election officials and law enforcement officials announced on Thursday the formation of a group aimed at stifling threats against election officials and voters.

The new Committee for Safe and Secure Elections said it would try to connect local election administrators with their counterparts in the police and sheriff departments in hopes of preventing more threats, harassment and acts of violence that have hampered the voting process in recent years. The group, which is led by Neal Kelley, a former registrar of voters in Orange County, Calif., describes itself as a “cross-partisan” effort and counts among its members officials from many other states, including Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Nevada, New Mexico, North Carolina and Wisconsin.

The committee also includes several current and former federal officials involved in securing elections, including Kim Wyman, a former Washington secretary of state who now directs election security operations at the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency.

“Like it was yesterday”

Committee members said they plan to address threats against election workers using a variety of means, including developing practices to secure physical facilities and tackling disinformation campaigns that start online but spread. quickly in the real world.

“How can we be truth tellers and soldiers of truth to fight this? Tina Barton, the former clerk from Rochester Hills, Michigan, said in an interview. “That’s going to be a priority for us.”

As secretary in the 2020 election cycle, Barton, a Republican, experienced first-hand the kind of behavior the new committee is trying to address, when she and her family began receiving death threats after she dismissed claims that the vote count she oversaw was inaccurate.

“We’re not used to being threatened, either personally or in our offices,” she told StateScoop, adding that joining the Committee for Safe and Secure Elections is “personal” to her. .

“It’s been 570 days since voicemail [containing a death threat] he was staying, but it still feels like yesterday,” Barton said.

Although Barton hasn’t watched all of the recent congressional hearings into the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol — “It’s still very raw” — she said she was moved by the details of the testimony this week of Wandrea ArShaye “Shaye” Moss, a former election worker in Georgia who, along with her mother, was personally accused by former President Donald Trump in the days following the 2020 election of falsifying the vote count . Moss told members of a House select committee that Trump’s baseless accusations fueled an attempted break-in at his grandmother’s house and prompted her and her mother to hide their identities in public for fear of being recognized.

“When you’ve been in this place, you imagine everything that’s happening to you and you’re horrified that it happened to them,” Barton said. “I think of my election workers, 400 people who were so committed, I’m shocked, appalled that any of them have experienced something like this. It’s been two years, but it feels like yesterday .

Build the “connective tissue”

Another member of the new committee, Jonathan Bydlak of the R Street Institute, said making sure poll workers and voters feel safe is a critical part of securing the democratic process.

“There are a number of facets of election security that are important,” said Bydlak, who leads the center-right think tank’s governance program. “One of those is making sure ballots are counted correctly, but a lot of that starts with people feeling safe in the first place.”

And while Bydlak said misinformation was something the committee would look into, he said the issues run deeper than the last election and the route to the Jan. 6 attack.

“You can’t separate the online from the person,” he said. “The most recent data point was 2020. Trump and his supporters certainly played a big role, but this is an issue that predated the last president.”

But Bydlak also said he believed that historically there was “not much” coordination between election officials and law enforcement.

“They really don’t talk to each other,” he said. “It didn’t happen because it didn’t need to happen.”

Bydlak said the committee will try to facilitate more communications between election administrators and law enforcement. “There’s connective tissue that needs to be built,” he said.

Barton said there were a few possible recommendations the new group could make to local authorities, such as holding table-top exercises or giving police officers quick guides to election laws, which she says Kelley did. , the former Registrar of Orange County. She also noted Maricopa County, Arizona’s recent joint appearances by Sheriff Paul Penzone — who is another member of the committee — held with the chairman and county clerk about their preparations for possible threats against the polling stations and counting facilities this year.

“When we are all better prepared, it will help prevent these things from happening again in the future,” Barton told StateScoop. “I don’t know if there is a simple and easy solution, in the atmosphere that we find ourselves in, the fact that we can bring this group together, we can work on this problem and get closer to finding a solution. .”