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'This has to stop': Harassed and threatened, GOP election officials urge party leaders to take stand

Officials have said claims of rampant fraud pushed by the president and his allies are creating a dangerous environment for election workers.
Image: Georgia's Secretary Of State Holds News Conference On Election Ballot Count
Gabriel Sterling, Voting Systems Manager for the Georgia Secretary of State's office, answers questions during a press conference on the status of ballot counting on Nov. 6, 2020 in Atlanta.Jessica McGowan / Getty Images

Election officials who have been harassed and threatened in the wake of the election are pushing back against President Donald Trump’s repeated false claims that the election was stolen from him and urging party leaders to do something.

Gabriel Sterling, a Republican official in the Georgia Secretary of State's office, spent the week condemning election fraud claims, which he said have incited death threats, intimidation, and harassment.

“It has to stop. Mr. President, you have not condemned these actions or this language. Senators, you've not condemned this language or these actions. This has to stop. We need you to step up and if you're going to take a position of leadership, show some,” he said in fiery remarks Tuesday. “This is the backbone of democracy and all of you who have not said a damn word are complicit in this.”

When Trump doubled down on his attacks on Georgia with a Tuesday night tweet, asking what Georgia officials were “afraid of” and calling on them to “expose the massive voter fraud in Georgia," the state's Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger hit back, too.

“This is exactly the kind of language that is at the base of a growing threat environment for election workers who are simply doing their jobs," Raffensperger, a Republican, said on Wednesday, directly blaming the president's claims that he won the election.

Sterling said Tuesday that Raffensperger's wife and home have been targeted.

There is no evidence of significant voter fraud in the 2020 election, in which Joe Biden beat Trump to become president-elect, and dozens of lawsuits filed by the president and his allies have confirmed this fact. Attorney General William Barr said Tuesday there is no sign of voter fraud that would change the outcome of the election.

But election officials across the country have said they are paying a personal price for their involvement in the democratic process.

Sophia Solis, a spokesperson for Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, said the office has received threats via email, social media, and by phone, and that they are working with the Arizona Counter Terrorism Information Center.

“These actions are utterly abhorrent, especially when directed at my family and my staff," Hobbs, a Democrat, said in a statement last month.

"Stand up for the truth," she urged federal and state officials.

Trump has continued to claim fraud, however, recently saying Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey, a Republican, had “betrayed” his state by certifying the state’s election results, which showed Trump lost to Biden there by over 10,000 votes.

Ducey then defended the state’s voting systems in a Twitter thread laying out the numerous safeguards in place to ensure a secure election.

Jennifer Russell, a spokesperson for Nevada Secretary of State Barbara K. Cegavske’s office, said that that office has received “a few threatening communications that have been turned over to law enforcement.” PBS reported a threatening voicemail to that office that said in part, “You guys are f------ dead.” Cegavske, a Republican, released a statement on Nov. 17 saying that under Nevada law, she plays "only a ministerial role in the process of certifying election returns." The Nevada Supreme Court certified Biden's win in the state on Nov. 24.

In Michigan, where Biden beat Trump by over more than 154,000 votes, the Detroit News reported that a self-proclaimed Trump supporter interrupted a Zoom meeting and threatened to rape the mothers of election officials.

The Associated Press reported that a Georgia poll worker had gone into hiding after viral video suggested he was disposing of a ballot, when in fact he was disposing of paper instructions.

Asked by reporters about the threats faced by Georgia's election workers during a briefing Wednesday, White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany said "we condemn any threats against anyone. There's no place for violence."

She said that the president's lawyers, who have brought a frenzied and failing legal effort to reverse the results of the election, had also been harassed.

Some experts fear these threats could make it harder to run future elections, too.

Public officials have "really been the subject of relentless attacks including death threats and that raises the cost of performing public service. I’m worried this will deter qualified Americans," Wendy Weiser, vice president of the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center for Justice at the NYU School of Law, said.

Former Kentucky Secretary of State Trey Grayson, a Republican, said Wednesday at a press briefing hosted by the National Task Force on Election Crises that election officials often prefer to stay out of the limelight, but that the threats were particularly upsetting after a difficult election year.

“We have an underfunded system of election and we had an incredibly taxing election this year and we had the best election we’ve ever had,” he said. “The fact that folks who are volunteering or not getting paid very much are receiving death threats is horrible and it really bothers me because the threats are coming from my political party, it really offends me.”