Bloomberg recently reported that over the last two years, local elections officials across the U.S. have faced a deadly pandemic, shortages of funding and workers, false claims of election fraud and even death threats.
Now they could face prison, too.
Under a spate of laws proposed or passed in at least 10 states, elections administrators could see criminal charges and penalties that include thousands of dollars in fines or even prison time for technical infractions of election statutes.
In Arizona, a new law makes it a felony, punishable by up to 2 1/2 years in prison, followed by loss of voting rights or gun ownership, for an elections official to send a mail-in ballot to any voter who has not requested one. It’s now a felony in Kentucky, with a possible five-year prison term, for an official to accept a donation or “anything of value” to assist with an election. In Florida, elections officials could face up to $25,000 in fines if they leave a ballot drop box unsupervised.
Broad new laws in Iowa and Texas make it a felony, with prison terms of up to five years in Iowa and up to two years in Texas, for elections officials who fail to follow a number of election procedures, while similar bills are pending in Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Oklahoma and South Carolina.
The laws are part of a broader effort to crack down on alleged voter fraud by Republican lawmakers who often echo former President Donald Trump’s false claims that the 2020 election was stolen from him. No one has yet been prosecuted under these new laws, but election activity will ramp up closer to November.
In fact, actual voter fraud is rare. An Associated Press review of six political-battleground states found just 475 disputed ballots out of 25.5 million cast for president, far too few to have had any impact on the outcome.
The aftermath of the 2020 election, coupled with the new laws, are making the job of elections administrator less and less attractive. A study last summer by the reporting consortium Votebeat and Spotlight PA found that 21 elections directors or deputies in Pennsylvania’s 67 counties had already quit or were planning to. Nationwide, a March survey of local elections officials by the nonpartisan Brennan Center for Justice found that one in five local administrators say they are likely to leave their jobs before the 2024 election.
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Ion Sancho, the elections supervisor for 28 years in Leon County, Florida, which includes Tallahassee, said the threat of a fine that amounts to half a year’s pay under the state’s new law has led local elections officials to reduce the number of drop-box locations and assign senior staff rather than volunteers to monitor them.
“It puts the fear of God into elections administrators, and that’s what it’s designed to do,” he said.