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Vote workers, officials around U.S. facing threats

by MICHAEL WINES THE NEW YORK TIMES | December 4, 2020 at 5:34 a.m.

WASHINGTON -- In his urgent demand Monday that President Donald Trump condemn his angry supporters who are threatening workers and officials overseeing the 2020 vote, a Georgia elections official focused on an animated image of a hanging noose that had been sent to a young voting-machine technician.

"It's just wrong," the official, Gabriel Sterling, a Republican, said at a news conference. "I can't begin to explain the level of anger I have over this."

But the technician in Georgia is not alone. Far from it.

Across the nation, election officials and their staff have been bombarded in recent weeks with emails, telephone calls and letters brimming with menace and threats of violence, the result of their service in a presidential election in which the defeated candidate's most ardent followers have refused to accept the results.

The noose may be approaching meme status among the recipients of the abuse. Amber McReynolds, head of the National Vote at Home Institute, a nonprofit organization that promotes voting by mail, said she had experienced a spike in online threats since Nov. 3, when Trump ratcheted up false claims that fraudulent mail votes had cost him the election. One serial harasser on Twitter, she said, has been especially venomous.

[Video not showing up above? Click here to watch » https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jLi-Yo6IucQ]

"He sent me a picture of a noose and said, 'You're a traitor to the American people,'" she said. "All because I run a nonprofit that tries to make voting by mail easier and more secure."

"I personally have gotten 10 or 12 of those -- emails with the nooses, images of people who have been hung," said the chief election official of one Western state, who refused to be named for fear of drawing even more threats. "They don't reference anything you're doing wrong. They're just, 'This election was stolen. We know you had something to do with it. We're going to come for you.'"

That official, like some others, said the threats had been sent not just to high-ranking officials whose profiles have been raised by news media interviews but to comparatively unknown members of their staffs.

They are the poisonous fallout of an election in which Trump has stoked claims of election fraud on a daily basis, his lawyers have peddled conspiracy theories, and supporters have called for extralegal actions with the goal of keeping Trump in power.

The president's attorney general, William Barr, said Tuesday that the Justice Department had found no evidence of fraud on a scale that could have overturned the results in an election that Trump lost by a 306-232 margin in the Electoral College and 7 million votes.

Officials in some states refused to confirm threats against their election workers, worrying that acknowledging them would only make the problem worse. But published reports of election-related threats and harassment have risen steadily in recent weeks. And in interviews, a number of state and local election officials have said the volume of intimidating communications from outsiders -- some of whom even identify themselves -- was unprecedented.

Among the targets, according to interviews and news reports, are officials in battleground states such as Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Nevada and Arizona, as well as election officers in less contested states such as Virginia, Vermont and Kentucky.

In Philadelphia, an aide to a Republican city commissioner was bombarded with abuse shortly after the Nov. 3 vote after a Trump supporter, former Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, singled him out at a broadcast news conference.

In Vermont, a caller left threatening voicemail messages on election officials' phones Tuesday, including a call for them to face a firing squad. Although the calls were the first to be reported to law enforcement authorities, the secretary of state, Jim Condos, said in a statement, "they are merely the extension of a pattern of vitriolic, often obscene, calls that our staff have had to endure during this election year."

Arizona's Democratic secretary of state, Katie Hobbs, said last month that she and her family received "utterly abhorrent" death threats after now-President-elect Joe Biden won the state's electoral votes.

And in Phoenix, Adrian Fontes, who supervises elections across Maricopa County, said he and his staff had been threatened in "plenty of instances" in recent weeks.

"It's just not right," said Fontes, a Democrat. "And frankly, it's un-American."

Not all the threats came from supporters of the president. In Michigan, the Detroit Free Press reported, the Republican chairwoman of the Wayne County Board of Canvassers was pelted with emails containing photos of dead women and threats against her daughter after she initially refused to certify the results of the election last month.

But Trump and his supporters have unleashed an attack on the election results and procedures with few if any parallels in recent history. Michael Flynn, Trump's recently pardoned former national security adviser, Wednesday called on the president to declare martial law and order a new election overseen by the military.

Joseph DiGenova, a former U.S. attorney who is a lawyer for the Trump campaign, was disavowed even by the White House after he said Monday that Christopher Krebs, the federal cybersecurity official who deemed the November election the most secure in history, should be "taken out at dawn and shot."

The language reflects the increasingly out-of-bounds rhetoric by some supporters of the president. Steve Bannon, the campaign strategist who briefly served as a Trump adviser, said last month that the FBI director, Christopher Wray, and Dr. Anthony Fauci, perhaps the most trusted federal scientist on coronavirus issues, should be beheaded and their heads placed on pikes outside the White House.

Trump has only doubled down on his fraud claims since Sterling, a voting systems manager in the office of Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger of Georgia, warned that "someone's going to get killed" if the incendiary rhetoric surrounding Trump's accusations did not abate.

On Wednesday, Trump unleashed a 46-minute video full of accusations of fraud and tweeted: "Rigged Election. Show signatures and envelopes. Expose the massive voter fraud in Georgia."

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