"We must be proactive to protect our election officials here at home," writes guest columnist and former Commissioner of the Virginia Department of Elections Chris Piper. (Parker Michels-Boyce / For the Virginia Mercury)
By Chris Piper
Those who watched the January 6 committee’s public hearings will remember a mother and daughter who served as election officials in Georgia who were relentlessly harassed and received numerous death threats, the result of false information spread about them when they were simply doing their job.
As someone who has worked in elections for the majority of my career, and now serving in a role where I meet and talk to literally thousands of election officials each year, I can say without a doubt that election officials are not doing their job for the money and the fame. They do it because they are passionate about serving our country and how we choose our representatives. The overwhelming majority of these election officials are part-time or temporary employees. They are your friends, neighbors and family members. They are people you sit next to in church and whom you walk by in the grocery store. Whichever political party they support, they take that hat off the minute they swear the oath to uphold the integrity of the election. They are just like you and me, and they serve because they see it as their way of giving back to their community.
Election officials are not doing their job for the money and the fame. They do it because they are passionate about serving our country and how we choose our representatives.
Like those officials in Georgia, election officials around the country have been subjected to death threats and harassment, a 2021 report found. Just last year, a national survey revealed that one in five election officials intend to leave their job before the 2024 election, in part because of these threats. The threats have become so pervasive that the U.S. Department of Justice, the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security created a task force to combat the growing problem. Bipartisan organizations like the Committee for Safe and Secure Elections and initiatives such as Issue One’s Faces of Democracy campaign have emerged to help amplify the need for protecting our election officials. While these groups have done amazing work, it is a sad fact that they are needed.
It is no surprise that election officials once again ran a successful election in 2022. While the 2022 midterms were generally free of the kind of election results denial we saw in 2020, it is not the time to let down our guard. Threats against election officials continue today, and there are no signs they will let up as we get closer to the all-important presidential election of 2024. In fact, they may increase.
And while these threats are not yet pervasive in Virginia, we must be proactive to protect our election officials here at home. States such as Colorado passed legislation protecting their election officials, but only after they faced numerous threats.
Senate Bill 907 from Sen. Lionell Spruill, D-Chesapeake, includes many of the protections election officials have sought, such as:
- Adding election officials and any employee of an election official to the list of individuals who may provide a post office box instead of their current street address for their voter registration record. This will protect their personal information from being furnished as part of voter registration lists, which could risk that information being exposed. Virginia already provides this protection for certain individuals, including current and retired law enforcement officers, people with protective orders and current and retired judges.
- Clarifying that it is against the law to bribe, intimidate, threaten or coerce any election official or employee of an election official from carrying out any of their duties in the administering of elections, not just at polling places, but also at satellite offices or other voting locations.
Protecting our election officials is not a partisan debate. Members of both parties and the public support the safety of our election officials as they are critical to the foundation and health of our elections and, ultimately, our country. Election officials must trust that they will be protected when they sign up to serve their fellow citizens in exercising their most sacred right.
Chris Piper served as the Commissioner of the Virginia Department of Elections from 2018 through 2022 and currently serves as chief operating officer for The Elections Group.
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