Monday, September 27, 2021

Some local election officials buy into fraud-and-conspiracy theories; many election officials say they feel unsafe

America’s decentralized election system depends on the professionalism and integrity of local and state election officials. Now some worry that some of their colleagues have become a threat to the system.

In Grand Junction, Colo., Mesa County Clerk and Recorder Tina Peters and her top deputy have allegedly embraced debunked right-wing conspiracy theories about elections. In April she required her employees to attend an after-hours gathering and listen to a speech by well-known conspiracist Douglas Frank. Also: "Over the course of the past month, in a lawsuit filed by the state’s top elections official, Peters and her deputy have been accused of sneaking someone into the county elections offices to copy the hard drives of Dominion Voting Systems machines," Emma Brown reports for The Washington Post. "Those copies later surfaced online and in the hands of election deniers. The local district attorney, state prosecutors and the FBI are investigating whether criminal charges are warranted."

UPDATE, Oct. 14: Peters and her deputy "cannot be involved in the administration of her county’s November election, a judge ruled Wednesday," Alex Burness of The Denver Post reports. "This means that former Republican Secretary of State Wayne Williams will oversee Mesa County elections this year. He was appointed by the Mesa County commissioners, under a temporary agreement that pays him $180 an hour. The commissioners supported Griswold’s suit."

Now that the audit of Arizona's Maricopa County ballots has failed to turn up evidence of fraud, conspiracists are looking to Peters' report, which she says she commissioned because it proves election irregularities. "The report, which Peters’ attorney, Scott Gessler, also included as part of defending her and Deputy Clerk Belinda Knisley [from state efforts] to block the two from overseeing the fall elections, alleges that nearly 29,000 election files were deleted during a routine upgrade of the county’s now-decertified election equipment," Charles Ashby reports for Grand Junction's Daily Sentinel.

"I’ve always worried, working in this space, about people who want to harm our elections or sabotage them from the outside — the foreign actors trying to hack elections," Mike Beasley, a lobbyist for the Colorado County Clerks Association, told Brown. "I’ve never until now had to worry about what goes on on the inside. And now we’ve crossed that threshold."

Recent polling from The Brennan Center for Justice found that one in three election officials feel unsafe in their job, and one in five are worried about death threats. In recent months, Donald Trump "has endorsed several proponents of the 'big lie' to become secretaries of state in key battlegrounds. And experienced election administrators at the local level have been fleeing their jobs amid skyrocketing stress and threats to their personal safety," Brown reports.

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