Oct 28, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Officials brace for unprecedented efforts to disrupt 2022 vote

Platforms used to deliver threats to election workers
Data: FBI; Chart: Axios Visuals

U.S. election officials are anticipating unprecedented efforts to disrupt the 2022 election, and putting battleground states on heightened alert.

Why it matters: Efforts to intimidate voters and spread misinformation can erode the public's trust in the democratic process, and safety concerns are making it hard to recruit election workers in some states.

Zoom in: In Colorado, Pennsylvania and other states, officials report that election deniers are signing on as poll watchers, which could create tense situations at polling places.

  • The "greatest fear" is that election conspiracy theories "could incite somebody to do something violent," said Matt Crane, the associate director for Colorado's association of county clerks.

Threat level: The FBI and Department of Homeland Security issued two warnings earlier this month, as early voting began in states across the country, about threats to election workers and voter intimidation.

  • Most of the threats have come in seven states that experienced public disputes, recounts or audits in 2020 — Arizona, Colorado, Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Nevada, and Wisconsin, the FBI reports.

What they're saying: "People whose minds have been warped by the Big Lie to believe that the 2020 election was stolen … might justify corrupt behavior or illegal behavior," says Susan Greenhalgh, a senior adviser for election security for the nonprofit Free Speech for People.

What's happening: Election officials are boosting security measures and training poll workers in de-escalation techniques.

  • In Chicago, officials recruited 400 active and retired law enforcement officers to work as "election investigators" and visit polling places to "maintain a secure and orderly election process," Max Bever of the Chicago Board of Elections tells Axios.
  • Minnesota's elections chief expanded an existing cybersecurity position to also focus on physical election security.
  • Georgia's secretary of state created a text-message system for poll workers and other elections employees to report threats or safety concerns in real time.
  • Other jurisdictions — including Colorado and cities like Columbus, Ohio — increased penalties for election tampering, equipment breaches and harassing poll workers.

Yes, but: Some local election officials and voting advocates worry the response could overwhelm voters and make elections seem less secure than they are.

  • Texas officials are sending inspectors and legal advisers to observe the vote in Harris County, citing unexplained irregularities in 2020.
  • But local leaders want federal election monitors to intervene as a counter to to the state's monitors, and contend the state's move is political because the Houston area leans Democratic.

What we're watching: These are all are preparations to head off any disruptions on Election Day — but an orderly Election Day doesn't necessarily guarantee a low-drama election.

  • More than 100 lawsuits have already been filed, largely by Republicans, to challenge aspects of the 2022 process, including states' handling of absentee ballots, AP reports.

Axios reporters Lindsey Erdody, Keldy Ortiz, Alissa Widman Neese, Monica Eng, Thomas Wheatley, Torey Van Oot and Isaac Avilucea contributed to this report.

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