Rep. Joe Morelle, House Administration Committee Ranking Member
Brian Lemek, Defend The Vote Action Fund Executive Director
We’ve barely rung in the new year, but 2024 is already shaping up to be one of the most contentious, consequential and high-stakes election cycles in our nation’s history — and we’re not even talking about the campaigns between the candidates.
At risk is the wellbeing of the local election officials, poll workers and volunteers who are tasked with running our free and fair elections, which are the foundation of our democracy.
Whether Congress chooses to support these local election workers will be one of its first decisions of the new year, as the deadline to pass appropriations funding is just weeks away. So far, the House majority appears to be failing to meet the moment.
Since the 2020 election, an alarming number of local election officials have left their post. Their departures have been fueled by a barrage of threats and harassment from extremists, election deniers, and conspiracy theorists who have overly consumed misinformation and disinformation about elections.
The nature of the threats is appalling. For instance, a man in Texas was sentenced to prison after calling for a “mass shooting of poll workers and election officials” and writing, “Someone needs to get these people AND their children. The children are the most important message to send.”
A survey by the Brennan Center for Justice found that nearly one in three election officials have been harassed, abused or threatened because of their job; almost half of respondents expressed concern for the safety of other election officials and workers in future elections.
The magnitude of these departures is a hazard to our entire election system.
At a time when we need experienced and stable leadership in these posts, high turnover can result in offices that are understaffed and inexperienced, with officials who have less institutional knowledge and less awareness of potential challenges or resources available to assist them. It increases the likelihood of administrative mistakes and makes it more difficult to recruit new workers and volunteers.
In addition to relentless intimidation, local election administrators must navigate a number of other challenges to run safe, accessible, accurate and transparent elections.
They must secure voting systems from both cyber and physical attacks, educate voters in the midst of misinformation, update aging equipment, and respond to an increasing number of public records requests.
Congress has the ability to help.
Lawmakers can provide the robust and predictable funding that election officials need to meet the challenges of 2024 and to keep elections running smoothly this year and beyond. President Biden has proposed $1.6 billion in federal election grants for 2024 and $5 billion over 10 years.
Additionally, Democrats’ Freedom to Vote Act reauthorizes the Election Assistance Commission. It’s an invaluable and trusted clearinghouse that provides voters with information they need, and ensures election officials have support and tools to educate voters and prepare for new challenges in an ever-changing environment.
Local election officials in red states and blue states are asking for this funding, yet the Republican majority in the House has not come close to meeting the need.
The Republican majority has also endangered the lives and safety of election workers across the nation by publicly releasing security footage from the Jan. 6, 2021, riots and continuing to support the Big Lie pushed by former President Trump and his extremist allies.
American democracy is in grave danger if we do not work together to protect the individuals doing the hard work of administering our nation’s elections. State and local election officials have had their lives upended by attacks and death threats for doing what our Constitution and our democracy requires of them.
There’s still time before the appropriations process concludes for Republicans to join Democrats in a bipartisan effort to support election workers.
Supporting our local election workers will allow them to administer secure and accessible elections as well as help provide Americans with confidence in our elections and their outcomes. Voters cannot do without the hard work of these officials and poll workers, and our democracy certainly cannot survive without them.
Maintaining our democracy requires resources. Budgets reflect society’s priorities. Support for this funding will reflect the extent of our support for protecting democracy, empowering election officials to do their good work, and improving and modernizing federal elections.
Rep. Joe Morelle (D-N.Y.) is the ranking member of the House Administration Committee, which has jurisdiction over election law, and is a member of the House Appropriations Committee.
Brian Lemek is the founder and executive director of Defend The Vote Action Fund.
Read the op-ed in The Hill here