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'We have to protect them': DOJ vows investigations, prosecutions of threats to election workers

Federal prosecutors and the FBI are being instructed to prioritize dangers to individuals and the electoral process.

Attorney General Merrick Garland vowed Friday to deploy federal resources and prosecutors to defend poll workers and election officials, who have faced a surge of threats and harassment in response to the 2020 election.

“To address this effort to undermine our electoral process, today the Deputy Attorney General will issue a directive to all federal prosecutors and the FBI to highlight the prevalence of these threats and instruct them to prioritize investigating these threats,” Garland said, adding that the Justice Department will launch a task force to focus on the issue, with members of the criminal, civil, and national security divisions and the FBI.

“Citizens who protect our right to vote are fundamentally protecting our democracy, so we have to protect them,” Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco said in the same news conference, where Garland announced a suit against the state of Georgia over their newly enacted voting law.

NBC News this year interviewed a dozen election officials who described months of harassment and threats as they sought to run an election that had already been made more difficult by the pandemic. Many officials — used to lives outside the spotlight — described phones ringing constantly and frequent harassment online. Some said they needed security details to protect themselves and their families.

Monaco said the task force will “ensure we’re bringing the full resources of the department to protect election officials,” and send “a very clear message to the field” that threats to election official should be identified and investigated.

She added that the task force will centralize reporting, so that the department can “understand fully the real scope of these threats to election officials, and fundamentally, the right to vote.”

In a recent survey of election workers commissioned by the nonpartisan Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law, 1 in 3 said they feel unsafe because of their job and 1 in 6 said they'd been threatened for their work running America's elections. The Brennan Center then recommended a federal task force to investigate the threats.