Threats Against Election Workers Cause 'Profound and Unprecedented' Trauma, Endanger Democracy: DOJ

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Jocelyn Benson, Michigan secretary of state, left, is sworn-in during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing in Washington, D.C., US, on Wednesday, Aug. 3, 2022. Federal prosecutors have charged five people with threatening election workers since the Justice Department launched a task force on the issue last summer, according to testimony prepared for the committee hearing.
Jocelyn Benson, Michigan secretary of state, left, is sworn-in during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing in Washington, D.C., US, on Wednesday, Aug. 3, 2022. Federal prosecutors have charged five people with threatening election workers since the Justice Department launched a task force on the issue last summer, according to testimony prepared for the committee hearing.

Al Drago/Bloomberg via Getty

The country's election workers are facing a growing number of hostile threats, Justice Department officials informed lawmakers Wednesday.

During a Senate Judiciary hearing, Assistant Attorney General Kenneth Polite said the Justice Department has reviewed more than 1,000 threats against election officials in the last year since a task force was created to examine threats against state and local officials who run elections.

About 10% of the complaints the task force received warranted criminal investigations, Polite said, according to The Washington Post.

"The trauma experienced in this community," Polite told the lawmakers, "is profound and unprecedented."

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Kenneth Polite Jr., assistant attorney general of the criminal division at the US Department of Justice (DOJ), speaks during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing in Washington, D.C., US, on Wednesday, Aug. 3, 2022. Federal prosecutors have charged five people with threatening election workers since the Justice Department launched a task force on the issue last summer, according to testimony prepared for the committee hearing.
Kenneth Polite Jr., assistant attorney general of the criminal division at the US Department of Justice (DOJ), speaks during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing in Washington, D.C., US, on Wednesday, Aug. 3, 2022. Federal prosecutors have charged five people with threatening election workers since the Justice Department launched a task force on the issue last summer, according to testimony prepared for the committee hearing.

Al Drago/Bloomberg via Getty

Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson also appeared before the committee Wednesday and spoke about threats she's received, WZZM 13 reports.

"One night in December 2020, I was about to put my son to bed when dozens of individuals descended upon our home," Benson said. "Growing in numbers over the course of an hour, they stood outside my front door waking my neighbors shouting obscenities and graphic threats into bullhorns. To this day, these images and this memory of that evening still haunts me."

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Benson also told the panel that her young son has become aware of the threats and shared a heartbreaking anecdote with the lawmakers.

Jocelyn Benson, Michigan secretary of state, speaks during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing in Washington, D.C., US, on Wednesday, Aug. 3, 2022. Federal prosecutors have charged five people with threatening election workers since the Justice Department launched a task force on the issue last summer, according to testimony prepared for the committee hearing.
Jocelyn Benson, Michigan secretary of state, speaks during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing in Washington, D.C., US, on Wednesday, Aug. 3, 2022. Federal prosecutors have charged five people with threatening election workers since the Justice Department launched a task force on the issue last summer, according to testimony prepared for the committee hearing.

Al Drago/Bloomberg via Getty Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson

"Not long ago, my son standing in our driveway, picked up a stick, turned to me and said, 'Don't worry, mom. If the bad guys come again, I'll get them with this.' He's six years old. Some of these incidents have been reported and drawn media attention. Many have not."

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Elizabeth Howard, senior counsel in the elections and government program at New York University Law School's Brennan Center, told The Washington Post that the number of threats the task force has seen is "shocking" but also said the number is likely understated.

A Brenner Center survey found that less than half of election officials receiving threats reported them to law enforcement and that only 20% reported to federal authorities, the Post notes in its report.

New Mexico Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver also testified and said that election workers in her state who've received threats feel it's no longer safe to work at polling places.

"Without them, we simply do not have a democracy and we will not have a democratic process," Oliver said. "We are on the verge of not having that process anymore, because we are not going to have enough committed citizen individuals if these threats and the 'big lie' that is driving them continues."