Personal threats, election lies and punishing new laws rattle election officials, raising fears of a mass exodus
July 21, 2021. Summarized by summa-bot.
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MADISON, WI - NOVEMBER 20: A election worker shows ballots to representatives for President Donald Trump during the presidential recount vote for Dane County on November 20, 2020 in Madison, Wisconsin. President Donald Trump requested a recount of ballots in Milwaukee and Dane counties in Wisconsin, hoping to overturn his narrow defeat in the state to Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden. Trump's campaign paid the state $3 million to cover the cost of the recount. (Photo by Andy Manis/Getty Images)
Election officials are asking hard questions about their professional futures as they become political targets in an era of widespread falsehoods about election fraud. Experts fear a massive exodus of administrators that could threaten democracy itself.
(CNN)Maribeth Witzel-Behl had run elections in Madison, Wisconsin, for 15 years when the 2020 election arrived, bringing challenges like no other: a global pandemic, a crushing workload, lawsuits and a recount.
In all, more than 8,000 local officials oversee US elections, according to the Elections and Voting Information Center at Reed College in Portland, Oregon.
"Everything I've heard from state officials and from locals is how unbelievably stressful it is, that they just can't take it anymore," said Paul Gronke, who teaches political science at Reed and founded the voting information center.
Election officials still reeling from the threats and attempts at intimidation during the 2020 election also face new penalties and curbs on their authority under laws advanced by Republican-controlled state legislatures this year.
A measure sought by Republicans in the Texas House, for instance, would make it a felony for election officials to distribute unsolicited state ballot applications.
And a far-reaching election law signed by Florida's Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis in May imposes a fine of up to $25,000 on any supervisor who leaves a ballot drop box unattended.
Wesley Wilcox, president of the Florida Supervisors of Elections representing the state's 67 county election administrators, said the new state law offers some valuable tools, such as a new load testing for online voting registration systems.
But Wilcox, who runs elections in Marion County, Florida, said the task of guarding ballot drop boxes will modestly increase his election costs.
"I'm going to appoint two people at each early voting site to monitor the drop boxes, in case one of them has to go to the bathroom or something," said Wilcox, a Republican first elected in 2012.
Back in Madison, Witzel-Behl said she decided to remain in her appointed post for another five years because it will give her the chance to continue to pursue a professional passion: easing inequities in voting across the city.