Senate committee weighs testimony on threats against election workers

MEMPHIS, Tenn — State election officials said election workers have faced growing threats of violence and harassment following the spread of unfounded election fraud claims from the 2020 election.

It was the focus of a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Wednesday.

“Election workers throughout the country of both political parties, both, have been forced to take extraordinary steps to protect themselves and their families,” said Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL), Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Election officials from both parties described the toll it has taken on everyone from Secretaries of State to everyday poll workers and clerks.

“They stood outside my front door, waking my neighbors, shouting obscenities and graphic threats into bull horns,” said Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, a Democrat.

“An uptick in everything from concerning emails to actual physical threats,” said Matt Crane, Executive Director of the Colorado County Clerks Association, who described himself as a conservative Republican.

The discussion included the damage caused by doxing – that’s when private information is posted online.

Lawmakers said it happened to the former director of elections for the Secretary of State in Washington state.

“The email and home addresses of Lori Augino were published on a website called enemies of the people along with a photo of her face,” said Durbin.

“It was unnerving, as you can tell when my elections director’s information was put out,” said Kim Wyman, Senior Election Security Advisor for the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), who used to work with Augino. “That’s part of why I joined CISA.”

Wyman fought back tears as she recounted the incident.

The Department of Justice (DOJ) created a task force last year to specifically focus on threats to election workers.

“The task force unites the foremost subject matter experts across the government who have deep experience with election-related issues,” said Kenneth Polite Jr., Assistant Attorney General in the Criminal Division of the DOJ.

Republicans were critical of the task force and argued the focus of the DOJ should instead be on the rise in violent crimes across the country.

“It appears that only four cases have been announced as a result of this task force’s effort,” said Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Ranking Member of the Senate Judiciary Committee. “That’s after more than a year’s work.”

“The vast majority of communications directed at election workers, offensive though they may be, will not constitute true threats subject to criminal prosecution due to the robust protections afforded to political speech,” said Polite during his testimony.

The election officials called for Congress to invest more funds in security for local election offices and to help those local officials access funds already available.

“We need you to act because many states like Michigan are failing to do what is necessary to protect us,” said Benson.