More than a dozen people in various parts of the USA have been prosecuted for threatening election workers by a US Department of Justice unit trying to discourage threats against people who do the work or running polling stations and counting ballots on election days.
Government employees are being bombarded with threats even in normally quiet periods between elections, secretaries of state and experts warn.
Some point to former President Donald Trump and his allies repeatedly and falsely claiming the 2020 election was stolen and spreading conspiracy theories about election workers. Experts fear the 2024 election could be worse and want the federal government to do more to protect election workers.
Federal elections in the USA are controlled by officials in each of the 50 states, Washington DC, and Puerto Rico, which participates only in presidential primaries, and there is no national election body.
The Justice Department created the Election Threats Task Force in 2021 led by its public integrity section, which investigates election crimes. John Keller, the unit’s second in command, said in an interview with The Associated Press that the department hoped its prosecutions would deter others from threatening election workers.
“This isn’t going to be taken lightly. It’s not going to be trivialized,” he said. “Federal judges, the courts are taking misconduct seriously and the punishments are going to be commensurate with the seriousness of the conduct.”
Two more men pleaded guilty Thursday to threatening election workers in Arizona and Georgia in separate cases. Attorney General Merrick Garland said the Justice Department would keep up the investigations, adding, “A functioning democracy requires that the public servants who administer our elections are able to do their jobs without fearing for their lives.”
The unit has filed 14 cases and two have resulted in yearslong prison sentences, including a 2 1/2-year sentence Monday for Mark Rissi, an Iowa man charged with leaving a message threatening to “lynch” and “hang” an Arizona election official. He had been “inundated with misinformation” and now “feels horrible” about the messages he left, his lawyer Anthony Knowles said.
A Texas man was given and three and a half year prison sentence earlier this month after suggesting a “mass shooting of poll workers and election officials” last year, charges stated.
In one message, the Justice Department said, the man wrote: “Someone needs to get these people AND their children. The children are the most important message to send.” His lawyer did not return a message seeking comment.
One indictment unveiled in August was against a man accused of leaving an expletive-filled voicemail after the 2020 election for Tina Barton, a Republican who formerly was the clerk in Rochester Hills, Michigan, outside Detroit. According to the indictment, the person vowed that “a million plus patriots will surround you when you least expect it” and “we’ll … kill you.”
Barton said it was just one of many threats that left her feeling deeply anxious.
“I’m really hopeful the charges will send a strong message, and we won’t find ourselves in the same position after the next election,” she said.
Lynching is an extrajudicial killing by a group. It is most often used to characterize informal public executions by a mob in order to punish an alleged transgressor, punish a convicted transgressor, or intimidate people. It was most commonly used in the lawless reconstruction era in the United States that followed the Civil War. The victims were usually African-Americans.
Source: VOA, US Department of Justice.