WASHINGTON — Democrats on the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday explored how to combat violent threats lodged against election officials, while Republicans questioned why the Department of Justice isn’t doing more to investigate threats against crisis pregnancy centers and Supreme Court justices.
During a hearing on protecting election officials, Assistant Attorney General Kenneth Polite Jr. discussed how the Justice Department’s Election Threats Task Force is prosecuting people who have threatened election officials. To date, the task force has investigated more than 1,000 complaints and has prosecuted five people.
The hearing comes as states are preparing for the November midterm election, which many election officials fear could prompt another surge in threats and harassment. A recent national survey found that 1 in 5 election officials say they are somewhat or very unlikely to stay in their jobs through 2024 due to the increased threats and political pressure.
The Senate panel called current and former election officials and members of law enforcement to discuss the threats and potential solutions.
Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson detailed her first-hand experience, including an incident in which people descended on her home and yelled threats and obscenities into bullhorns while she was putting her young son to sleep.
She described an “omnipresent feeling of anxiety and dread that permeates our home,” and pleaded with senators to pass additional protections for her and her colleagues.
New Mexico Secretary of State Maggie Tolouse Oliver said she had to leave her home for weeks under state police protection during the 2020 election cycle when she was “doxxed,” meaning her personal information was posted publicly. Her office has also been targeted with threats, some serious enough to refer to law enforcement, and social media trolling that parrots misinformation spread online.
“For the election officials and volunteer poll workers that our elections depend on, I fear that threats and harassment will cause them so much stress and uncertainty that they will simply give up on the work,” she said.
Former Washington secretary of state and current U.S. Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency senior election security adviser Kim Wyman teared up during her opening remarks, saying she didn’t want to cry in front of the committee but the opening video detailing violent threats against her colleagues and others left her emotional.
Republicans repeatedly questioned why the Justice Department isn’t investigating threats that have nothing to do with election officials.
Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas displayed photos of vandalized crisis pregnancy centers in several states, claiming that the politics of the Justice Department “happen to agree with the vandals” so there has been no prioritization of the incidents.
“I am highly concerned that this Department of Justice is politicizing the enforcement of justice,” Cruz said.
Polite responded that politics plays no role in the department’s investigations and prosecutions and that the department takes any incidents of violence seriously. Read more