Democracy groups step up poll worker recruitment amid a surge in violent threats
“We urgently need more people — especially younger people, who can continue to serve for years to come, to sign up to be a poll worker,” one advocate said to Supercreator.
FIRST THINGS FIRST
We’re near the completion of the final primary elections ahead of the November midterms, the first nationwide contests since former President Donald Trump attempted to overturn the 2020 presidential results and incited an insurrection at the US Capitol.
Democracy advocates view poll workers as a vital defense against the chaos we saw on January 6th and that the former president’s supporters may try to sow as voters cast their ballots in 84 days. In fact, Protect Democracy, a nonpartisan nonprofit organization dedicated to preventing American democracy from declining into a more authoritarian form of government, launched a campaign in observance of National Poll Worker Recruitment Day to ensure that polls are well staffed so each voter’s voice is heard and enhance trust in our electoral process at a time when that confidence is eroding.
Jane Slusser, program manager at Power the Polls, a coalition of businesses and nonprofits seeking to recruit a new wave of poll workers and partner of Protect Democracy in its recruitment efforts, said in a statement to Supercreator that the organization was blown away by the hundreds of thousands of people who signed up to be poll workers in 2020 despite the pandemic. The goal of Poll Worker Recruitment Day is to ensure that anyone who wants to cast their ballot in this year’s election is able.
“Every day, we hear from election administrators who are sounding the alarm about poll worker shortages in states across the country,” Slusser added. “We urgently need more people — especially younger people, who can continue to serve for years to come, to sign up to be a poll worker.”
Poll workers, as I wrote prior to the 2020 election, are the unsung heroes of our democracy: They help voters check in, understand their ballots and then cast them. During the worst parts of the pandemic, they helped voters maintain physical distance in lines, wipe down machines and equipment, and open and count absentee and mail-in ballots. The pandemic also exacerbated the country’s poll worker shortage since many of the folks who served in the role were over the age of 60.
“[Poll workers] are the people who are really operating the fundamental gears to make sure that we can have free and fair elections in this country. These are not glamorous positions, they're not really paid very well, in the first place,” Orion Danjuma, counsel at Protect Democracy who works on elections and voting rights, said to Supercreator. “And they are not in the in the sort of normal environment that we’ve grown up in as Americans positions that often have a lot of attention focused on them.”
But the surge in violent threats towards election workers in the wake of the 2020 election has turned what was a low-profile function into one targeted by those who want to choose who’s in power regardless of how American citizens vote.
Kat Calvin, executive director at Spread the Vote told Supercreator that attempts to harm or intimidate poll workers are attempts to stop people from voting and sees it as no coincidence that these kinds of attacks are often reported at polling places populated by Black and brown voters.
“Regardless of which side of the aisle an election worker sits on in the personal life, at the polls that person is doing their civic duty to ensure that all Americans are able to vote and they should be celebrated for that, not attacked,” Calvin said. “Voting while Black is difficult and dangerous enough right now — the safety of poll workers is paramount to ensure open and stable access to the polls.”
Slusser at Power the Polls acknowledged that some people are concerned about the safety and said potential poll workers should know that local elections officials have protocols and training in place to ensure polling places are safe and efficient on election day so every voter can cast their ballot.
On the legislative front, Project Democracy is promoting new laws that allow election officials to protect their personally identifying information from being accessed through public records requests and doxxed. The organization has also coordinated the first-of-its-kind committee on safe and secure elections that includes election officials and the law enforcement community to develop common-sense solutions to provide basic security and safety for election officials with a focus on responding to threats as they’re occurring in and around elections.
The reality for most local jurisdictions though is that they need more funding to respond to the rise in threats.
“Election offices are among the least funded sort of sectors of American government. Most election offices are funded locally, which often leads to great disparities because poor communities have less resources to fund their elections,” Danjuma of Protect Democracy said. “And most jurisdictions tend to spend more on parking than they do on election offices than the needs of election offices.”
Advocacy groups are also pushing the Justice Department to take stronger action than it has to date to ensure that the purveyors of threats are held accountable and that election officials know action has been taken on those threats when they're reporting threats to state and federal entities.
Kenneth A. Polite, Jr., assistant attorney general for the Justice Department’s Criminal Division said in a statement to Supercreator that many of the most egregious and explicit threats are made anonymously, often employing overseas service providers or unregistered devices, which makes attribution a challenge. Additionally, each threat requires individualized assessment to determine whether there is admissible evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that an identified suspect has violated the First Amendment. Despite these challenges, federal prosecutors and law enforcement agents are making progress in these investigations and Polite anticipates additional prosecutions.
“These are ordinary people from across the political spectrum filling a vital democratic role for our nation, typically with little recognition or support. They deserve better. The Department of Justice has a long history of protecting every American's right to vote, and will continue to do so,” Polite said of poll workers. “We must also work tirelessly, in coordination with federal, state, and local law enforcement partners, to use all available tools to protect election workers — whether they be elected officials, appointed officials or those who volunteer their time — against the threats they face.”
Danjuma said that if you look closely, there are few stories of election officials being attacked, which suggests that the surge of threats we’ve seen is part of a campaign mostly based on terror rather than on action. So while we absolutely need to make sure that election officials and that people can take these positions and know that they have enough security to protect themselves, it’s not a situation where election offices are a war zone that should be avoided.
“I think that it is absolutely essential that people do step forward to participate in as poll workers and and as election off staff and officials, because there's no way for our democracy to function without people who are willing to provide that public service,” Danjuma said. “You should participate knowing that all efforts are being made to make sure it's the election is safe and secure.”
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First Lady Dr. Jill Biden tested positive for COVID-19 and will remain at a private residence in South Carolina, where she and the president had been on vacation, until she receives two negative tests. Dr. Biden, who is double-vaccinated, twice boosted and experiencing mild symptoms, has been prescribed Paxlovid, the oral medication doctors prescribe to prevent severe illness and death after a COVID infection. (FWIW: Each of the four White House principals — the president, vice president and their spouses — have now all tested positive for COVID-19 at least once.)
Related: President Biden tested negative today, per a White House spokesman. “Consistent with CDC guidance because he is a close contact of the first lady, he will mask for 10 days when indoors and in close proximity to others,” the administration said in a statement. “We will also increase the President's testing cadence and report those results.”
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Related: President Biden said in a statement that the announcement is part of his administration’s work to make the economy more competitive and less concentrated. “When too few companies dominate, American consumers pay higher costs,” he said. “We’re finally building an economy that works for working families.”
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TODAY IN POLITICS
President Biden this morning returned to the White House from South Carolina and later signed and spoke about the Inflation Reduction Act. He will travel this evening to Delaware and resume his vacation.
Vice President Harris had no events on her public schedule.
The House and Senate are out.
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