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Lawmakers In Some States Move To Confront Threats Against Election Workers

AUSTIN (CBSDFW.COM/CNN) - Lawmakers in at least three states are considering measures to counter the onslaught of threats that state and local election officials have endured in the aftermath of the 2020 election.

In Maine, a bill slated for debate in a legislative committee later this week would increase the penalty for threatening an election official with violence. In Vermont, a measure introduced this month aims to make it easier to prosecute culprits. And in Washington, the state Senate has approved a bill that would make harassing election workers a felony, punishable by up to five years in prison.

The bills advancing at the state level follow the US Senate's failure last week to pass sweeping federal voting legislation that, among other things, would have made it a federal crime to reveal personal information about election officials, poll workers or their families with the goal of threatening or intimidating them.

Election workers have faced a barrage of harassment and threats following the 2020 election. Former President Donald Trump and his allies have relentlessly pushed the falsehood that widespread election fraud contributed to his loss of the presidency.

Nearly 1 in 3 local election officials included in a survey last year conducted for the Brennan Center for Justice said they felt unsafe because of their jobs.

Larry Norden, senior director of the elections and government program at the Brennan Center, said it's important to hold offenders accountable with tougher laws. But he said the bigger problem rests with the reluctance of law enforcement officials to prosecute the harassers using existing laws.

"Under a lot of state laws," he said, "threatening to kill somebody or to commit violence where the person has a reasonable fear that it will be carried out, that's prosecutable."

Norden said election officials need other assistance as well, such as training on how to protect their personal information and extra funding to secure their offices and homes, if needed.

'Strong Statement' Needed

In Washington state, the bill's sponsor, Democratic state Sen. David Frockt, said he was "appalled" by the actions of protesters following the 2020 election. They included an incident on January 6, 2021, in which Trump supporters broke through the gate at Gov. Jay Inslee's mansion and protested on the lawn -- the same day that Trump supporters stormed the US Capitol in Washington, DC.

And in the weeks after Trump's election loss, personal information about the state's elections director was posted on a website that described her along with other election workers and elected officials as "enemies of the people," according to The Seattle Times.

Frockt said lawmakers need to "make a strong statement that, at a minimum, we're going to protect these election workers, who are doing a very noble service and have always done it without controversy in Washington."

His bill passed the state Senate unanimously earlier this month. It now sits in a House public safety committee.

So far, federal officials have charged one person in connection with threats against election workers.

On Friday, the US Justice Department charged a Texas man who had allegedly made threats against election officials in Georgia. It was the first charge to come from an election task force established six months ago by the Justice Department to deal with the threats.

Chad Stark, of Leander, was charged with using interstate communications to make a threat, a federal crime. Stark is accused of calling for "Georgia Patriots" to "put a bullet" in a Georgia election official.

According to the 3-page indictment, the 54-year-old Texan made the threat in a post on Craigslist after then-President Donald J. Trump called Georgia GOP Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger an "enemy of the people" and pressure was being put on government officials in Georgia following the 2020 election.

The department has reviewed more than 850 reports of threats to election officials and has dozens of ongoing investigations, Assistant Attorney General Kenneth Polite told reporters last week.

(© Copyright 2022 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The CNN Wire™ & © 2022 Cable News Network, Inc., a WarnerMedia Company contributed to this report.)

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