Former Head of Election Committee Leads National Effort to Protect Polling Station Workers and Voters – Press Telegram

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With the midterm elections less than two months away and signs and mailings already aplenty, a former Orange County registrar has launched a new national campaign to keep voters and voters safe in an increasingly volatile and partisan environment.

The Committee on Safe and Secure Elections – chaired by Neil Kelly, who retired in Marchand supported by New York’s Brennan Center for Justice – includes law enforcement and election administration experts from across the country. Its short-term goal is to connect local law enforcement and election officials to combat threats and violence against poll workers and voters. In the longer term, the group will seek to recommend policy and legislation to address the issue more broadly.

Earlier this year, a Georgia election worker and her mother testified to Congress that they had to move to new homes and were afraid of being recognized in public after former President Donald Trump and his supporters publicly accused them of meddling in local elections.

A survey conducted this year by the Brennan Center found every sixth voter they said that they personally received threats some polling stations, as reported after an influx of threats of violence, they installed surveillance cameras, hired private security and offered active shooter training.

“There was a collective feeling among many election officials across the country that the threats were getting stronger, the campaigning was getting stronger as (2022, 2024) got closer,” Kelly said. “Some voters don’t know what to do, they don’t know how to protect them.”

A new concern

Kelly, who ran Orange County elections from 2005 until earlier this yearsaid he received offhand comments about the job, such as “You’ll have blood on your hands if you approve this election,” but some members of his new committee were the targets of protests outside their homes and death threats.

A new question for workers who register voters, answer their questions and count ballots. Rick Hassen, an election law professor at the University of California, Los Angeles who has researched threats to election officials, said it has something to do with the 2020 election.

“I think we’re still dealing with the fallout from that because Trump is still claiming that the election was stolen and people are running on a platform of denying the election,” Hassen said.

No one has presented credible evidence of widespread election fraud in 2020 or beyond, but some candidates even in deceit or fraud before their elections. This strategy could potentially undermine democracy by convincing people that the election is unfair, Hassen said, and “if the voters don’t believe that, the whole system can collapse.”

State Sen. Josh Newman, D-Fullerton, addressed poll worker safety a big enough problem that he wrote a bill that would allow them to keep a private home address through existing government programs that protect law enforcement officers and victims of domestic violence. The the bill was later expanded to cover other state employees and awaits Gov. Gavin Newsom’s signature.

Workers running for office “have found themselves drawn into this maelstrom of partisanship and acrimony,” and at times have been subjected to threats and physical confrontations, Newman said.

He cited a 2021 national survey of more than 230 voters that found that one in three respondents “were concerned about feeling unsafe or harassed” while doing their job.

Newman said that during public comment at a committee hearing, a person called against his bill and “said something like, ‘You can try to hide from us, but we have friends at the post office and we will find you.’ »

Los Angeles County Registrar/County Clerk Dean Logan, who has worked as an election administrator for more than 30 years, said his office works closely with law enforcement and encourages poll workers to come forward if they have any concerns.

Incidents like the one that happened to poll workers in Georgia are “very troubling” because they can discourage people from volunteering or taking jobs in local elections, Logan said. “Does it also lead to increased voter cynicism when people don’t want to vote or feel uncomfortable going to the polls?”

Solving the problem

Kelly’s bipartisan committee is working on products, services and training that can be used by local election and law enforcement officials, including a video on what to do when election officials are threatened and what a successful incident should look like.

He previously created a pocket guide for police who may be confused about whether a polling station threat is a civil or criminal matter; the committee updates the guide with information and laws specific to each state. There’s also a checklist of steps for election officials with information on how to report threats and desk exercises they can do to work with law enforcement.

Kelly, Logan and current Orange County Clerk Bob Page agreed another important part of solving the problem is being transparent with voters and anyone who has questions or concerns about the election process.

Page, who also spent nearly four years as the San Bernardino County registrar, said he is focusing on more training for anyone who works with voters. While the county already has a “really robust” program for people who want to watch ballots be counted and verified, it expects even more interest in November — and now people are asking to see other parts of the process, like when ballots are taken into drop boxes .

He focuses on what his office does what systems are in place to ensure that elections are accurate and secure.

“I can just control the honest explanation of what we’re doing,” Page said. “It’s definitely up to the other person how they take that information and what they do with it.”

Logan said that in his speech to the voters, he is trying to emphasize that the electoral process really belongs to the community and it is important for them to participate in it.

“There is an argument that the purpose of all this is to discourage people from participating in elections,” he said. “The best defense against these efforts is participation.”

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