In response to an uptick in threats against election workers after the 2020 election, Oregon lawmakers passed a measure this session that gives them greater protections. House Bill 4144 increases the penalties for harassing election workers and shields their personal information. Chris Walker is Jackson County Clerk, in charge of elections for the county. She says elections always are tense – especially presidential elections since roughly half of the population is going to be disappointed.
“What we have not experienced as we have since the 2020 election is the amount of anger directed toward elections officials themselves, and that was kind of new territory for us,” said Walker.
Walker has witnessed threats herself. In the weeks after the 2020 election, graffiti that said “vote don’t work” and “Next time bullets” was found painted on the parking lot near her election office in Medford. Under the measure, the maximum penalty for harassing an election worker is punishable by 364 days in prison and a 6,250 dollar fine.
The bill comes at the request of Secretary of State Shemia Fagan. In a survey of Oregon Elections Division workers in her office, Fagan found 10 of the 13 people who responded had experienced threats or harassment. Ben Morris, communications director for the Secretary of State’s office, says this measure will bolster what are already well-run elections.
“It sends a really clear message to people who may seek to try to interfere that threats and harassment targeting election workers are going to be met with penalties – but those actions will not change the outcome of the election, said Morris.
Walker says people have been reacting with anger to misinformation, especially on social media. She wants people to think of their county clerk as a source of accurate information. And she adds that election workers are going to continue doing their jobs no matter the situation.
“The great part about elections officials, county clerks – we’re very resilient. We’re going to get our job done and we’re not going to live our life in fear,” said Walker.
A handful of other states, including Washington, have also mulled greater protections for election workers this year.
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