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Michigan Bill Would Protect Election Workers from Threats

Election workers were the targets of harassment, threats and intimidation during the 2020 elections. Proposed legislation would make it illegal to harass election workers and would punish offenders with jail time, a fine or both.

(TNS) — A bill introduced by a Democratic Michigan House member aims to protect election workers from threats and intimidation.

House Bill 5282, introduced by state Rep. Kara Hope, D- Holt, would make it illegal for individuals to harass election workers, punishing those who threaten or prevent workers from performing their duties with a misdemeanor charge with up to 90 days in jail, a $500 fine, or both.

Hope said a chaotic scene at Detroit’s TCF Center while election workers counted absentee ballots cast during the 2020 general election last November prompted her to craft the legislation.

“Since the 2020 election, poll workers have been the targets of severe harassment and intimidation,” Hope said. “Republican and Democratic election officials alike are being terrorized by conspiracy theorists insisting that the election was stolen despite all evidence to the contrary.

“It seems to me like that type of behavior — being disruptive, the bullying, the intimidation — is encouraged by a certain segment of the far-right. You saw it at the TCF Center, you see it now at school board meetings.”

Hope said she sees some groups continue to encourage dangerous behavior over legitimate political activity, like organizing or voting.

“I hope something like the TCF Center never happens again, but realistically, the fact that so many people believe our last election was illegitimate, suggests to me that there will be some level of bad behavior in the future if their cause or candidate doesn’t prevail,” she said.

Michigan’s top election official, Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, a Democrat, issued a statement in support of the legislation.

Benson said the bill would protect election work, “and outline consequences for those who attempt to undermine it.”

“In the last nine months, election workers — particularly those who have had the courage to speak the truth about the accuracy and integrity of the 2020 election — have been subject to an unprecedented number of threats,” Benson said. “In spite of the danger they’ve been in and the concern they’ve felt for themselves, their colleagues and at times even their families, these brave men and women have continued doing what is right — working to ensure we have safe, secure and accessible elections.”

Local and county clerks in Michigan over the last year have been receiving threats to their safety for simply doing their job, said Ingham County Clerk Barb Byrum.

“Our elections officials are the heroes who ensure that our democratic system of government is able to function safely and securely and they deserve to be protected from harassment and intimidation,” she said.

The Michigan Association of Municipal Clerks has also expressed support for the proposed legislation.

“Michigan’s local election officials deserve to feel safe and protected in the execution of their important work keeping Michigan’s elections free and fair,” Municipal Clerks President Mary Clark said in a statement.

Hope said she hasn’t had conversations yet with her Republican House colleagues, but is hoping to find bipartisan support for the bill.

“This isn’t a partisan issue,” she said.

“We all got to where we are in Lansing because of elections. They don’t function without election workers and I think ( Republicans) would be doing a disservice to all the election workers around the state who work long hours for little pay if they didn’t support this.”

Michigan currently does not have any specific election official protection laws.

©2021 Advance Local Media LLC. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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