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COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — This week’s gripping testimony to Congress about threats to native election officers after the 2020 presidential election had a rapt viewers far past Washington — secretaries of state and election clerks throughout the uswho mentioned the tales might simply have been their very own.

Demise threats, harassment and unfounded accusations have pushed native election officers from their jobs, unprecedented assaults that many say threaten not simply themselves however American democracy itself.

A day after the native election workplace in Medford, Oregon, licensed the outcomes from the 2020 election, staff discovered a message spray-painted on their car parking zone: “Vote Don’t Work. Next Time Bullets.”

“We spent the rest of the day pretty much in shock that this had happened here,” Jackson County Clerk Chris Walker testified during a hearing earlier this year on state legislation to protect election workers. “The noise happening around the country had hit home.”

At Tuesday’s hearing of the House committee investigating President Donald Trump’s role in the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, a mother and daughter who were election workers in Georgia brought the sense of danger into stark relief. They testified they feared even to say their names in public after Trump wrongly accused them of voter fraud.

“There were a lot of threats wishing death upon me,” said Wandrea “Shaye” Moss, the daughter.

Georgia was a center of threats to election officials as Trump and his allies challenged his loss there to Joe Biden and as Trump mounted a pressure campaign on the secretary of state to “find” enough votes to say he’d won.

In Gwinnett County, northeast of Atlanta, a contract worker with Dominion Voting Systems faced death threats after someone shot video of him transferring a report to a county computer. Widely shared online posts falsely claimed the young man was manipulating election data.

That led Gabriel Sterling, the chief operating officer for the Georgia secretary of state’s office, to lash out angrily against the violent threats and false rhetoric in a December 2020 news conference, a moment he recalled during Tuesday’s congressional hearing.

Other misinformation targeted the suburban county, including claims that an electronics recycling truck disposing of surplus equipment outside a county office was shredding election hard drives.

The “exhaustion” of that political environment combined with the coronavirus pandemic and a new voting system drove more than half of Gwinnett County’s permanent election staff to resign after the 2020 election, Elections Supervisor Zach Manifold said.

After it was over, he said, “I think they just all took a deep breath and a lot of people were like, ‘Yeah, I just don’t think I can do this anymore.’”

He said the department has rebuilt, but lacks the institutional knowledge about elections it once had.

Similar stories can be found across the country.

In Northern California’s Nevada County, a politically mixed region in the Sierra foothills east of Sacramento, a judge agreed to issue restraining orders earlier this year against residents who had charged past security into the county’s election office, demanding an update on their efforts to recall members of the board of supervisors.

Crystal Roascio, the elections administrator in Carbon County, Montana, explained why the county stepped up election security during the state’s June 7 primary.

“I have election judges terrified for their safety and have even had some resign from being a judge over this,” Roascio mentioned in an e-mail.

A survey launched in March by the Brennan Heart for Justice on the New York College Faculty of Regulation discovered that one in three election officers is aware of somebody who has left a job partially due to threats and intimidation, and that one in six had skilled threats personally.

Citing the potential impact on democracy, the U.S. Division of Justice launched a process drive practically a 12 months in the past to handle rising threats towards election officers. Public Integrity Part Principal Deputy Chief John Keller described it in an e-mail to The Related Press as a “deeply disturbing development.”

The group’s first prosecutions got here in January with the arrests of a Texas man accused of posting dying threats towards a Georgia election official and a Nevada man of dying threats towards that state’s secretary of state’s workplace. The latter calls are alleged to have included, “I hope your children get molested. You are all going to (expletive) die.”

Final week, a 42-year-old Lincoln, Nebraska, man pleaded responsible to creating a number of threatening posts on Instagram final 12 months aimed on the Colorado secretary of state.

“Do you feel safe?” Travis Ford said, according to court documents. “You shouldn’t.”

Jena Griswold, the secretary of state, said those making the threats are trying to stop her and others from doing their work to protect fair and free elections.

“We won’t be stopped. I won’t be stopped,” Griswold mentioned in an interview. “It only furthers my resolve.”

The U.S. Election Help Fee earlier this month voted unanimously to increase use of its funding to guard election staff and officers towards threats. Amid the barrage, some in Congress are also pursuing options.

Along with at the least a dozen bills introduced or passed at the state level, laws launched in Congress final 12 months by Democrats would make it a federal crime for any particular person to intimidate or threaten an election employee. It was half of a bigger Democratic-led effort on voting rights that cleared the Home however then was stopped by a filibuster within the Senate. A separate invoice that will defend election and ballot staff was launched in February.

Outlawing election threats would cowl instances like some in Arizona, the place officers since 2020 have fielded threatening cellphone calls and messages that escalated throughout a partisan audit of the election leads to the state’s largest county.

Maricopa County Recorder Stephen Richer obtained expletive-laden voicemails calling him “scum” and a “traitor,” threatening him with citizen’s arrests and telling him he would burn in hell.

One caller instructed him if he gave the Republican-backed contractors performing the audit any extra bother, he’d “never make it” to his “next little board meeting.”

Richer mentioned he referred a number of the messages to legislation enforcement and deleted his Fb account when individuals began utilizing it to seek out and harass his spouse.

Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson is aware of these kinds of threats all too properly. She was among the many election officers personally threatened after Trump unfold his false claims of widespread election fraud.

In a press release issued after Tuesday’s congressional listening to, she mentioned election staff join the job as a result of they care about democracy. However she, her workers and lots of the a whole bunch of native officers all through Michigan have been focused, leading to “an omnipresent feeling of anxiety and dread that permeates our daily lives, and our families’ lives.”

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Related Press writers Christina A. Cassidy in Atlanta and Ali Swenson in New York contributed to this report.

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