The US Department of Justice is investigating more than 100 cases of threats against local elections last year, most of them in states that former President Donald Trump lost to President Joe Biden in the 2020 election.
The disclosure was released Monday by the Justice Department’s Task Force on Election Threats at a briefing for a bipartisan group of about 750 election officials and staff.
The task force has reviewed more than 1,000 “contacts” reported as “hostile or harassing” by election workers and found that 11% of contacts – made by phone, email, social media or in person – met the Justice Department’s threshold for open a federal criminal investigation.
That equates to about 110 threats under investigation. But because many of the cases under investigation involved more than one threat, the actual number of ongoing investigations is far fewer than 110, a department spokesman explained.
The task force was created in June 2021 to respond to the growing threats against election workers in the wake of the disputed 2020 presidential election. Its members review threats reported to the FBI, which has assigned an election crime coordinator to each of its 56 field offices.
The 1,000-plus incidents of harassment and hostile interactions with election officials spanned the period from June 2021 to June 2022. The trend continued in July, the task force told election officials, according to Sylvia Albert, director of elections and elections for Common Cause, who attended the briefing.
Fifty-eight percent of the potential criminal threats reported in the 12 months were made in states where Trump contested the election loss or where officials held recounts and post-election audits. These were Arizona, Georgia, Colorado, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Nevada and Wisconsin.
A total of 89% of communications with election officials were considered protected speech and could not be investigated.
“A lot of the questions were focused on ‘Wait. Really? You can only investigate 11% of cases?’ And they said, ‘Yeah, I’m sorry, but we can only investigate things that aren’t protected by the First Amendment,'” Albert said.
Since its creation last year, the task force has come under fire for not aggressively investigating and prosecuting threats against election officials.
So far, the group has filed charges in four federal cases and said it expects more prosecutions in the near future.
In the first conviction secured by the force, a Nebraska man pleaded guilty in June to threatening an election worker on an Instagram page linked to the official.
“Do you feel safe?” You shouldn’t,” Travis Ford reportedly wrote. “Do you think Soros will/can protect you?” and “Your security information is far too flimsy and inadequate to protect you. This world is unpredictable these days … anything can happen to anyone.”
Michigan’s Ingham County Clerk Barb Byrum said that while her office has not received any threats, she knows of other Michigan election officials who have been the target of “nasty messages.”
“One of the email responses I heard was, if you send me any more emails about this election, I’m going to cut your throat,” Byrum told VOA.
The Ingham County Clerk’s office continues to receive messages from people who are convinced that elections are not “safe and secure.”
“And it’s very concerning that these same individuals are grocery shopping next door to election managers,” she said. “They are in the same school as me.
Byrum said the DOJ’s Task Force on Election Threats could have a mitigating effect on threats against election workers.
“Once people are finally held accountable, I think assaults and harassment will decrease,” Byrum said.
The Department of Justice is investigating more than 100 cases of threats against election workers
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