U.S. local election officials are increasingly concerned about threats and political pressure fueled by baseless allegations of voter fraud in the last presidential race, and one in five say they are somewhat or very unlikely to stay in their jobs through the 2024 contest, a national survey showed on Thursday.
In the poll of nearly 600 election officials, more than 75% said threats against election administrators and staff have increased in recent years. The percentage saying they are "very worried" about political leaders interfering in future elections has nearly tripled since before 2020.
Conducted by the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law, the poll also found that more than three-fourths of local election officials say social media companies have not done enough to stop the spread of false election information.
The survey underscores problems identified in a series of Reuters reports on harassment and intimidation of election workers after the 2020 elections. The news organization has documented more than 900 threatening and hostile messages to election administrators and staff in 17 states, almost all alluding to former President Donald Trump's false claims of a stolen election.
"We are at a really critical juncture," said Al Schmidt, former Republican Philadelphia City Commissioner, who received death threats after refusing to back Trump's false claims of widespread election fraud in the 2020 vote. "The consequence of this threat environment is that you have more people leaving and they're replaced by less experienced election administrators or people who want to undermine confidence in our system of government."
About one in six election officials reported in the poll that they have been threatened personally, and more than half those cases were not reported to law enforcement. Nearly a third of the respondents said they feel their local government could do more to support them; more than 75% said the federal government should do more to support them.
More than 40 percent were completely unaware of a task force set up last year by the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate and prosecute threats against election officials, the survey showed, and most of the rest said they'd heard of it but "don't know much about it." To date, the task force has made two arrests.
More than 80% of the surveyed election officials said social media bears "a lot" of responsibility for spreading false election information, and nearly two-thirds said that problem had made their jobs "somewhat" or "a lot" more dangerous.
Among the 20% of officials who said they are "somewhat unlikely" or "very unlikely" to remain in their posts through the next presidential election, about a third said a key factor in their decision is that "too many political leaders are attacking a system that they know is fair and honest." Other common explanations included the stress of the job, reaching retirement age and the increasingly "nasty" tone of American politics.
The Brennan Center surveyed 596 local election officials across the country between January 31 and February 14. The survey had a 3.95% margin of error, the center said.