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NC Elections Workers Threatened, Harassed

With just over two months to go before the 2022 elections, North Carolina election officials are reporting what has become commonplace in their jobs: harassment, intimidation and even death threats.

“We have had emails or correspondence that wish us a painful death, “ Karen Brinson Bell, the executive director of the State Board of Elections, said recently on the podcast Tying It Together. “We’ve had racist phone calls.”

In the last year, 43 of North Carolina’s 100 county elections directors have retired or left.

“It’s not what you signed up for,” Brinson Bell said. “Every day, we are still dealing with the 2020 election. It’s making it very difficult to prepare for this year’s election.”

Elections offices are being flooded with public records requests, many aiming to prove fraud or conspiracy theories in the 2020 election, Brinson Bell said in the podcast. In the six months leading up to that election, the State Board of Elections received 48 records requests. In 2021, that number jumped to 229, and Brinson Bell expects as many as 500 this year.

“It’s taking our attention and our energy,” she said.

Tensions have risen in Buncombe County, said elections Director Corrine Duncan. But “we’ve been lucky,” she told Asheville Watchdog. “We haven’t had any instances of harassment.”

Buncombe needs hundreds of temporary poll workers this year. Duncan said she fears some long-time poll workers may not return because of the contentious environment.  She said she is even having difficulty filling her four open permanent posts.

The elections office is coordinating with local law enforcement to ensure safety at polling places. “We are taking reasonable precautions,” Duncan said. “We’ve always taken it seriously” because “we are talking about the right to vote.” 

One change that could improve the next election is stricter rules for election observers, who are appointed by political parties. Proposed by the state elections board, the rules would prohibit the kinds of bad behavior that was documented in a statewide poll of North Carolina elections officials after the May primaries. 

Observers questioned poll workers carrying out their duties, repeatedly entered and exited the polling place, attempted to interfere with voters submitting their ballots, asked to photograph voters forms with confidential information, followed poll workers to their cars, and filmed them after polls closed, the election officials reported   

The rules on disruptive conduct must be approved by the board’s Rules Review Commission.  – Barbara Durr

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