Early voting continues at the San Diego County Registrar of Voters in Kearney Mesa.
Early voting continues at the San Diego County Registrar of Voters in Kearney Mesa. Photo by Chris Stone

Lawmakers in California and Oregon are calling for tougher legislation to protect election workers in response to a wave of threats and harassment.

The threats, inspired by former President Donald Trump’s false claims that the 2020 vote was rigged against him, continue, inspiring office holders to craft proposals that range from attempts to better protect election workers’ privacy to making harassment of such employees felonies.

California State Senator Josh Newman, a Democrat, introduced a bill on Wednesday that would give election workers the option of keeping their home addresses private. The measure is aimed at reducing harassment by preventing the public release of personal information online or on social media platforms.

“Once your personal information is on the internet, there’s no shortage of people that may act on that information, especially when triggered,” said Newman. “It’s got to be terrifying.”

The bill would allow election workers to enroll in California’s existing privacy protection programs that are available to survivors of domestic violence, judges and politicians, among others.

“U.S. election officials are overworked, underpaid, understaffed and now under attack, as has been well documented by Reuters,” said Kim Alexander, president of the California Voter Foundation, who helped draft the bill. “We also need law enforcement to intervene whenever election officials are harassed or threatened and prosecute attackers wherever possible to help deter this kind of heinous behavior.”

In Oregon, legislators are considering a measure that would make it a felony to harass or threaten election workers while they are performing their official duties, state officials said. The measure also would exempt the personal information of election workers, such as home addresses, from certain public records.

“In the months leading up to and since the 2020 election, election workers across the country have faced verbal abuse, harassment and violent threats on their lives,” Oregon Secretary of State Shemia Fagan, a Democrat, told state lawmakers on Tuesday. “As we head into the 2022 election season, we must do all we can to protect election workers against physical harm fueled by misinformation.”

Oregon joins at least nine other states considering stronger protections for election administrators who have faced a campaign of terror inspired by Trump’s baseless claims of widespread fraud in the 2020 vote.

Reuters documented more than 850 threats and hostile messages to election workers and officials nationwide in a series of investigative reports.

The reporting “made it clear that we had to do something to address the unprecedented rise in threats and harassment targeting election workers,” said Ben Morris, a spokesperson for Fagan. The coverage “has been incredibly helpful in making the case for the bill.”

(Reporting by Linda So; editing by Jason Szep)

– Reuters