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Before Midterms, Election Officials Increase Security Over Threats

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In Wisconsin, certainly one of the nation’s key swing states, cameras and plexiglass now fortify the reception area of a county election office in Madison, the capital, after a person wearing camouflage and a mask tried to open locked doors during an election in April.

In one other bellwether area, Maricopa County, Ariz., where beleaguered election staff needed to be escorted through a scrum of election deniers to achieve their cars in 2020, a security fence was added to guard the perimeter of a vote tabulation center.

And in Colorado, the state’s top election official, Jena Griswold, the secretary of state and a Democrat, resorted to paying for personal security out of her budget after a stream of threats.

Because the nation hurtles closer to the midterm elections, those that will oversee them are taking a spread of steps to beef up security for themselves, their employees, polling places and even drop boxes, tapping state and federal funding for a recent set of defenses. The heightened vigilance comes as violent rhetoric from the proper intensifies and as efforts to intimidate election officials by those that refuse to just accept the outcomes of the 2020 election turn into commonplace.

Discussing security in a recent interview with The Times, Ms. Griswold, 37, said that threats of violence had kept her and her aides up late at night as they combed through comments on social media.

At a right-wing group’s gathering in Colorado earlier this yr, she said, a outstanding election denier with militia ties suggested that she needs to be killed. That was when she concluded that her part-time security detail provided by the Colorado State Patrol wasn’t enough.

“They called for me to be hung,” said Ms. Griswold, who’s running for re-election. “It’s an extended weekend. I’m home alone, and I only get seven hours of State Patrol coverage.”

Even in places where there was never a shadow of a doubt in regards to the political leanings of the electorate, election officials have found themselves under threat. In a Texas county that President Donald J. Trump won by 59 percentage points in 2020, all three election officials recently resigned, with no less than one citing repeated death threats and stalking.

The collective angst is a recurring theme at workshops and conferences attended by election officials, who say it is just not unusual for them exchange anecdotes about threatening messages or harassment on the food market. The discussions have turned at times to testing drop boxes — a spotlight of right-wing attacks on mail-in voting — to see in the event that they can withstand being set on fire.

With the primaries winding down, each parties are beginning to shift their focus to the final election on Nov. 8.

Benjamin Hovland, a member of the U.S. Election Assistance Commission, described the intimidation campaign as pervasive.

“This isn’t a red-state issue or a blue-state issue,” Mr. Hovland said in a recent interview. “It is a national issue, where the skilled public servants that run our elections have been subjected to an unprecedented level of threats, harassment and intimidating behavior.”

In guidance issued in June, the Election Assistance Commission allowed for federal election grants for use for physical security services and to watch threats on social media.

In Wisconsin’s Dane County, which incorporates Madison, partisan poll watchers and a brigade of lawyers with the Trump campaign descended in 2020 to dispute the election results. County officials recently budgeted $95,000 to start out designing a recent and safer election center.

The move got here after the U.S. Department of Homeland Security conducted a risk assessment in April on the present election offices for the county and city, that are housed in the identical constructing.

“It’s sort of a sieve,” Scott McDonell, a Democrat and the county’s clerk for the past decade, said in an interview.

How Times reporters cover politics.
We depend on our journalists to be independent observers. So while Times staff members may vote, they usually are not allowed to endorse or campaign for candidates or political causes. This includes participating in marches or rallies in support of a movement or giving money to, or raising money for, any political candidate or election cause.

But with a recent center more likely to be a good distance from fruition, more immediate steps were taken. Up to now six months, security cameras and plexiglass were installed, in keeping with Mr. McDonell, 53.

But those measures are only a “stopgap,” Mr. McDonell said, recalling the April episode when a masked man tried to enter several restricted areas during local elections.

“He’s all in camo, shaking on doors, attempting to get into spaces and filming every part,” Mr. McDonell said. “That may never occur in a properly secured, laid-out constructing that was designed for elections.”

The emphasis on security has prolonged to the municipal level, with Dane County training local clerks for the primary time last month on de-escalation techniques and tips on how to reply to an lively shooter, Mr. McDonell said.

Arizona’s most populous county, Maricopa, which incorporates Phoenix, was a nexus of efforts to overturn the 2020 election. The safety fence erected across the county’s tabulation and elections center last yr is 10 feet tall. Its purpose: to forestall a repeat of November 2020, when election staff were surrounded by a crowd of Trump loyalists, a few of them armed, as the employees tried to get to their cars.

The safety buildup didn’t end there. The county added recent security cameras, including 23 with livestreaming capability, installed glass partitions around a pc server and hired private security patrols to reinforce its own guards, said Scott Jarrett, the nonpartisan co-director of county’s elections department.

A layer of protective film was also applied to all of constructing’s windows to make them harder to interrupt and to obscure employees’ faces, especially at night.

“Even someone with a hammer who was banging against it, I feel the manufacturer said that somebody could possibly be doing that for a consistent five minutes, and it’s not going to interrupt,” Mr. Jarrett said.

The county even built a vault with a fire-suppression system to carry ballots, in keeping with Mr. Jarrett.

“There’s not an election official probably within the country immediately who doesn’t have some concerns,” he said of the stressful working conditions for election staff. “Democracy, I feel, is coming under assault.”

Michigan’s top election official, Jocelyn Benson, 44, who’s a Democrat, has a security detail from the state when she needs it. In an interview, she described a time in December 2020 when a bunch gathered outside her Detroit home to call for her to overturn the victory of Joseph R. Biden Jr. in Michigan. A few of them were armed.

“I used to be about to place my son to bed, and dozens of people descended on our home,” Ms. Benson said. A neighborhood security guard initially was the just one separating the house from the gang, which shouted obscenities that she said woke up her neighbors.

Michigan received $8 million in federal election funds that Ms. Benson said local election officials could spend on physical security and efforts to tamp down misinformation.

Still, in testimony last month before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee, Ms. Benson urged the federal government to put aside extra money for security.

“To guard democracy, we must protect election officials,” Ms. Benson, who’s running for re-election, said on Thursday.

In Colorado, Mr. Trump’s allies have regularly tussled over election oversight with Ms. Griswold, who said that her office had compiled a 60-page PDF detailing the a whole bunch of threats that she had received.

Ms. Griswold drew a comparison between those making violent threats toward election officials and the individuals who took part within the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol.

“We have now to take threats of violence seriously,” Ms. Griswold said. “We have now to disincentivize it.”

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