Michigan Democrats want to make it a felony to threaten election workers
A Democratic state lawmaker introduced a pair of bills that would make it a crime punishable by up to five years in prison to intimidate a poll worker or election clerk.
The Michigan House of Representatives held a hearing on Sept. 12 on a pair of bills that would make it a felony punishable by up to five years in prison to intimidate an election official.
Democratic state Rep. Kara Hope introduced House bills 4129 and 4130, which would make it a crime to prevent “an election official from performing their duties,” after she saw an increasing number of threats toward election workers, she told Michigan Live.
Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, who administers Michigan’s elections as part of her job duties, testified in favor of the bills, saying that the legislation “will ensure accountability for anyone who harasses an election clerk to the point where that clerk fears for their personal safety.”
“These bills send a message to anyone who would attack or threaten the guardians of our democracy here in Michigan – this stops now,” Benson said, according to prepared remarks before the state House Elections Committee.
Benson herself was the subject of an intimidation effort in Michigan after the 2020 election, when dozens of armed protesters who supported former President Donald Trump showed up at her home.
“As my four-year-old son and I were finishing up decorating the house for Christmas on Saturday night, and he was about to sit down to watch How the Grinch Stole Christmas, dozens of armed individuals stood outside my home shouting obscenities and chanting into bullhorns in the dark of night,” Benson said in a statement at the time.
Hope, who introduced the bills in February, said at the hearing: “Elections cannot take place without election workers. That’s the bottom line,” according to Bridge Michigan.
Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has said protecting election workers is one of the goals she wants to achieve in the remaining part of 2023.
In an August speech outlining those goals, Whitmer said there was a “coordinated effort” to “threaten poll workers during the counting process” and that she wants the Legislature to “shore up election security.”
Threats to election workers have been on the rise since 2020, when Trump and his Republican allies began spreading lies about supposed voter fraud in the election.
A March 2022 report from the Brennan Center for Justice found, “One in six election officials have experienced threats because of their job, and 77% say that they feel these threats have increased in recent years.”
In an August 2022 call with election officials across the country, Assistant Attorney General Kenneth A. Polite Jr. said in a press release that the Justice Department’s Election Threats Task Force had reviewed more than 1,000 “hostile or harassing” contacts made with election workers. Of those contacts, 11% warranted an FBI investigation, Polite said.
“Election officials in states with close elections and postelection contests were more likely to receive threats,” according to press release, which said, “58% of the total of potentially criminal threats were in states that underwent 2020 post-election lawsuits, recounts, and audits, such as Arizona, Georgia, Colorado, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Nevada, and Wisconsin.”
Ultimately, it’s unclear when the bills in Michigan will come up for a vote. But Democrats control both the Legislature and the governorship in Michigan for the first time in 40 years, giving them control over what bills make it to the floor and the chance to pass legislation with or without Republican support.
Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.
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