Oct 18, 2022 - Podcasts

New threats to election workers

The FBI has issued a warning about threats to election workers ahead of the midterm elections. Colorado has been identified as one of the top states for threats to poll workers, which has put election administrators on high alert.

  • Plus, flu season starting early.
  • And, the student loan forgiveness program opens applications.

Guests: Axios’ John Frank and Kaiser Family Foundation's Dr. Celine Gounder.

Credits: Axios Today is produced by Niala Boodhoo, Sara Kehaulani Goo, Alexandra Botti, Robin Linn, Fonda Mwangi, and Alex Sugiura. Music is composed by Evan Viola. You can reach us at [email protected]. You can text questions, comments and story ideas to Niala as a text or voice memo to 202-918-4893.

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Good morning! Welcome to Axios Today!

It’s Tuesday, October 18th.

I’m Niala Boodhoo.

Here’s what you need to know today: flu seasons starting early. Plus, the student loan forgiveness program is open for applications.

But first, new warnings about threats to election workers. That’s today’s One Big Thing.

NIALA: The FBI has issued a warning about threats to election workers ahead of the midterm elections. And Colorado has been identified by the FBI and Homeland Security as one of the top states for threats to poll workers, which has put election administrators on high alert. Axios reporter John Frank is based in Denver and has been covering efforts to disrupt the 2022 midterm elections. Hi John!


NIALA: So the FBI saying this is worse than 2020, what states and what actions in particular are they worried about?

JOHN: It's hard to believe, but yes. What seems to be happening here is all the threats, falsehoods, misinformation from the 2020 election are all coming to a head here in the 2022 election. And so what election workers here on the ground in Colorado tell me, is that it's just a lot more intense. The scrutiny they're facing, the public records request, and yes the threats to election workers. The FBI issued a report earlier this year that found about 60% of the threats to election workers were in just seven states, so that's Arizona, Colorado, Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Nevada, and Wisconsin. What all those states have in common is they all underwent election disputes, recounts, or audits after 2020.

Here in Colorado, for example, we had a recount in our 2022 June primary for Secretary of State, and the woman who lost was an election denier and forced to recount in this race. Which again showed that she did lose, but still, it stirred up enough animosity and threats that Colorado is one of these top states.

NIALA: John, to add to the confusion, I know there was a mistake that was made in Denver about some cards to register to vote that went out to some 31,000 non-citizens. How much is that adding to problems?

JOHN: County election workers tell us that is only amplifying the concerns they feel under the microscope. So any error, even a small clerical error like this, just only further accentuates the conspiracy theories they say. And that only further raises questions to a point where, you know, they're starting to worry that the election denial will get to a point where it infiltrates the broader public trust in elections here in Colorado. Because Colorado has some of the most accessible and secure elections in the country. So if our elections get challenged or doubted, that's gonna speak volumes about just where the country stands as a whole.

NIALA: And you reported that in Colorado, county clerks are having an increased number of these election deniers applying for positions as poll watchers and election judges. Are we seeing that happen in other parts of the country as well?

JOHN: This is a national trend, and here in Colorado, it just does seem to be a little more intense in some of our most Republican counties. For instance, in Weld County, just north of Denver, all 35 poll watchers from the June primary were affiliated with election denial organizations. And this general election in November, officials are saying they'll have a zero tolerance policy for disruptions. And so if these poll watchers cause a scene or try to, you know, impede someone voting, they'll be immediately dismissed. Because the poll watchers are there as part of law and they're allowed, but they're not allowed to disrupt the election.

NIALA: So last year the FBI and the DOJ established a Threats to Election Workers task force. How effective has that been, especially now that we're just a couple weeks out from election day?

JOHN: What it's been most effective at is identifying these threats, which they're seeing come in through all sorts of channels. Most of 'em come in via email for that matter, but a lot are being phoned into local and state election offices. Those are then being referred to the FBI task force, who's working more closely with election officials here in Colorado than ever before, according to our county clerks on the ground. We recently had someone who made threats against our Secretary of State, Jena Griswold, who is the state's chief election advisor, go to jail for those threats. So the FBI and the DOJ is taking it very seriously at least here in Colorado.

NIALA: Axios Denver reporter John Frank. Thanks John.

JOHN: Thank you.

NIALA: In a moment: what to know about the coming flu season ahead.


Flu season starting early

NIALA: Welcome back to Axios Today. I'm Niala Boodhoo.

I'm finally getting my flu shot this week, and apparently none too soon because flu season is coming in earlier than normal, with cases already rising around the country. Other viruses like those that cause the common cold and one called RSV are also hitting many adults and children for the first time since Covid precautions have relaxed. Here to answer your questions about what to expect and what you can do is Dr. Celine Gounder. She's a senior fellow with the Kaiser Family Foundation, as well as an infectious disease specialist and epidemiologist. Dr. Gounder, welcome back to Axios Today.

DR. CELINE GOUNDER: It's great to be here, Niala.

NIALA: Dr. Gounder, let's start with the flu. When is the best time to get your flu shot?

DR. GOUNDER: It's a great question. So I was just on service at the hospital. We usually do these 14 day straight blocks, and I had two patients in the hospital with the flu who are quite sick. And you know, I think this is about the right time to be getting your flu shot, given that we are seeing flu circulating a little bit earlier than usual.

NIALA: And what projections do we have for this year? And I know this is a tricky one. How effective is the current vaccine going to be against the flu strains that we're already seeing?

DR. GOUNDER: You know, we really don't have a sense for that. As we go into the flu season very well, we start to get a sense midway through flu season. Then at the end, we can say in retrospect, you know, this was a pretty good match or not. We also don't entirely know how bad this flu season is likely to be. If you look at countries in the Southern Hemisphere that is a way of prognosticating, forecasting what we might see. There's been some variations. So Australia, for example, had a really bad flu season, South Africa did not. And so this is likely to play out a bit differently, all over the world.

NIALA: Dr. Gounder, there are other viruses making the round, specifically RSV and enterovirus. Can you tell us what these are and what we need to know about?

DR. GOUNDER: These are both viruses that can cause cold or flu-like symptoms. So for example, the nose and throat can give you a runny, stuffy nose or a sore throat or cough, but when they go deeper into the respiratory tract, they can cause what's called bronchiolitis or pneumonia, and that's where it can get really dangerous, especially in the very young and very old. Those are the groups we worry about ending up in the hospital and getting really sick.

NIALA: I will say anecdotally, it feels like a lot of people are talking about their colds and other respiratory viruses feeling worse than before the pandemic. Is this actually true or is it maybe just a shock to the system because masking and hand washing and all of that kept all of these viruses away from us for so long?

DR. GOUNDER: Well, it's probably a bit of both. We are certainly seeing a spike in respiratory infections. People haven't been as exposed over the last couple years because of all those mitigation measures. And so infections are coming back with a vengeance. Are they actually so much worse than they were pre pandemic? I don't know about that, but take the case of RSV, for example. Kids, under the age of three, most of them haven't really been exposed. And so now you have all of these kids all being exposed all at once. And so of course you're seeing pretty big numbers of RSV and then also kids getting really sick and ending up in the hospital with RSV.

NIALA: Dr. Celine Gounder is an infectious disease specialist and epidemiologist, as well as a senior fellow at the Kaiser Family Foundation. Thanks, Dr. Gounder.

DR. GOUNDER: Great to be here.

NIALA: And, we received a note from a listener asking for an update on another virus in the news -- Monkeypox. Olivia in LA wrote us to say, "It seemed like such a huge issue months ago, but then other things took over the news cycle."

Well, the CDC just announced some good news about monkeypox. Cases are continuing to decline in the U.S., with the virus hitting its lowest level since June.

If you want to send us a question or comment, my number is (202) 918-4893. Or you can email podcasts at axios dot com

The student loan forgiveness program opens applications

NIALA: Before we go, an update on president Biden’s student loan forgiveness plan: the administration on Friday launched a beta version of its application for debt relief. And yesterday, the White House said at least 8 million people have already applied. The form is a simple one, and we’ll link to it as well as information on who’s eligible and deadlines for applying, in our show notes.

That’s it for today! I’m Niala Boodhoo - thanks for listening - stay safe and we’ll see you back here tomorrow morning.

NIALA: Kai Wright grew up in the Black church. And his favorite part was the hugs, the winks, the check-ins with people. Join him to gather, process, and figure out where this country is going, together. Find Notes From America wherever you get podcasts.

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