‘People are scared’: Threats to midterm election officials spur US law enforcement response

“Election workers regularly voiced their concerns. They have seen the potential for violence in our country. And now they’ve only seen a few people acting in an intimidating or intimidating way on the ground here in Arizona,” said Paul Penzone, sheriff of Maricopa County in Arizona, where armed people have posted themselves to the polls these last weeks. “People are scared because they don’t know what to expect.”

The FBI would not answer questions about how many credible threats against election workers it is currently tracking. But senior law enforcement officials said they received thousands of tips on threats — physical and cyber — against election workers between the summer of 2021 and June 2022.

This is a long-simmering problem. Local law enforcement officials said they received multiple reports a day for at least two months of election workers experiencing online harassment and physical threats, including threats against their families.

A federal law enforcement official said the FBI and Department of Homeland Security are devoting additional resources to investigating threats against election workers and politicians and communicating with law enforcement. locals about new leads.

“Election officials are followed home…being threatened with death as they leave the office. You have election officials who have seen armed protesters show up outside their homes,” said Lawrence Norden, senior director of the Brennan Center’s Elections and Government Program. “I don’t shed any light on the threats and attacks that we’ve seen against members of Congress…but we’re talking about people on a very different level who…have had very few resources.”

Penzone said he and his team have additional staff to protect polling stations and drop boxes, including plainclothes field officers to patrol on Election Day. He described Arizona as the “wild, wild West” – an environment that could potentially provoke acts of political violence.

“There are a lot of guns. Then you have factions that would be described as fringe factions that feel like it’s not their way so it’s the wrong way who are now being encouraged to act against it or question the institutions” , did he declare. “I have meetings every day with my team where we have a comprehensive, solid and very committed plan… just to make sure we get through this election.”

In Georgia, a key battleground state, officials have set up an Election Officials Response Team — a group of people dedicated to reviewing reports of incidents that interrupt midterms.

“My big concern is not an organized conspiracy of people trying to do this. My big concern is a random lone wolf who’s not right in their head, who’s been energized by all this misinformation and misinformation – they can do something without anyone knowing first,” Gabriel Sterling said. , chief operating officer of the Georgian secretary of state’s office.

Sterling testified before the January 6 Congressional Committee in June about attempts by President Donald Trump and his allies to pressure local officials as they tried to cancel the 2020 presidential election. is currently aware of no credible and active threat to elections in Georgia, he said.

Michigan officials are also taking new steps to secure polling places amid continued concerns about violence related to the midterm elections. The FBI this week arrested two suspected members of the Boogaloo Boys, a far-right anti-government group. One of them, Timothy Teagan, appeared in federal court in Detroit this week on charges of drug use while in possession of firearms and ammunition. Tagan Told documentary filmmaker Ford Fischer that federal agents questioned him about “any violent plans or violent tendencies that may manifest themselves in connection with the election.”

“Election officials and law enforcement are more prepared than ever to respond immediately to any attempt to interfere with or disrupt the election process or to intimidate voters,” Michigan’s secretary of state said Thursday. Jocelyn Benson, during a press briefing.

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessell told POLITICO in an interview that she is working with federal and state law enforcement to identify potential threats in the state.

“Some of the things that happen in other areas don’t happen here,” she said, referring to armed vigilantes at the polls. “I absolutely believe this constitutes voter intimidation. We have very clear laws on voter intimidation. We took every step imaginable to ensure that voters would have a normal election day.

Heidi Przybyla contributed to this report.

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