Election Officials Still Face Death Threats And Conspiracies Voting officials, who used to operate in relative anonymity, are facing threats and intense pressure as a large chunk of American voters have no confidence the system is fair.

Death Threats And Conspiracy Theories: Why 2020 Won't End For Election Officials

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A MARTINEZ, HOST:

Yesterday, a man who reportedly said last year's presidential election was stolen was arrested for making a bomb threat on the U.S. Capitol. That's just the latest in what officials say has been an onslaught in threats related to conspiracy theories about the 2020 election.

NPR's Miles Parks reports.

MILES PARKS, BYLINE: One night last December, Jocelyn Benson was getting ready to watch "How The Grinch Stole Christmas" with her 4-year-old son. Benson is Michigan's secretary of state and a Democrat. And as she was settling down, a group of protesters upset about the election, some of them armed, gathered outside her home. One of the protesters went live on Facebook.

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UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: If you're just tuning in, we are in Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson's house. And we are not going away.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: Stop it.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: Stop the steal.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #4: (Unintelligible), you felon.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #5: Stop the steal.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #4: Come on.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #6: You're a murderer.

PARKS: Eight months later, Benson and election officials across the country say they are still under attack. That was a major theme this past weekend, when the nation's top voting officials met for a conference in Iowa.

Here's Benson.

JOCELYN BENSON: To me, this very much is the very unfortunate new normal, where fearing for our safety and having to think about the safety of not just ourselves but our families, our staff is part of the job that we take on when we choose to administer democracy.

PARKS: Fighting the conspiracies that lead to those sorts of threats is going to be a challenge for election officials for years to come. It's one thing to secure your elections, but it's another to convince people of that security.

Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose, a Republican, says he's encouraging local administrators to set up mock elections at fairgrounds and high schools.

FRANK LAROSE: Somebody's going to come up to the board of elections booth, and they're going to say, hey, is that the machine with the secret algorithm from China or is that the machine that switched the votes from one candidate to another? And instead of dismissing that, engage with that person.

PARKS: The Department of Homeland Security recently put out a warning that the agency was seeing an uptick in online calls for violence related to election conspiracies. But part of the problem is that some Republican officials are also fueling the fire.

The Republican secretary of state of West Virginia, for instance, Mac Warner, took issue with the DHS warning. In a Q and A with a senior DHS official at the conference in Iowa, Warner claimed that the warning was an attempt to, quote, "muzzle conservatives" who were going to an election conspiracy event hosted by My Pillow founder Mike Lindell.

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MAC WARNER: I'm going to couch my question in the form of a request. And that request is that you help depoliticize your organization.

PARKS: Immediately, Colorado's Democratic secretary of state, Jena Griswold, jumped in.

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JENA GRISWOLD: To offer a counterview, I will say that my staff and myself got a week of death threats because of the pillow conference. So we did appreciate the DHS threat announcement. So thank you.

PARKS: The threats and pressure are taking an emotional toll, too.

KIM WYMAN: We haven't decompressed from 2020.

PARKS: That's Washington Secretary of State Kim Wyman, a Republican who spent much of last year correcting President Trump's false claims about mail voting.

WYMAN: I'm not sure how we move forward because it doesn't matter what I present to critics or challengers. It doesn't matter what the answer is. It will always be something new.

PARKS: When the problems aren't real, she says, it's very hard to find solutions.

Miles Parks, NPR News.

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