Texas county pays for de-escalation training for election workers
Amid fears of polling site violence, Travis County officials for the first time have shelled out cash to train election workers in de-escalation techniques.
Why it matters: The amount of money, while small, is an insight into how counties are spending public money as a consequence of ginned-up paranoia and agitation over "the big lie" that President Biden didn't win the 2020 election due to claims of voter fraud.
By the numbers: Travis County paid $4,900 to Washington-based Tactical Training Academy for de-escalation training, Travis County Clerk spokesperson Victoria Hinojosa tells Axios.
- About 60 election workers attended one day of in-person training ahead of early voting.
What they're saying: "Our office felt we should have that training as an additional safety net," county clerk Rebecca Guerrero tells Axios. "I wanted our workers to be vigilant about what's happening and to understand the types of situations that could occur and how to handle them."
- Pro tip: When it comes to people who might be disruptive at the polls, Guerrero says she learned during training, "Have a conversation with those individuals, allow them to speak — and then reiterate what they're saying to show we're understanding what they're saying to us."
Between the lines: Elections officials in Travis, Hays and Williamson counties tell Axios they have been able to recruit a full complement of election workers, despite national reports of election worker harassment.
- "We're very fortunate we have not had an issue with recruiting poll workers," Guerrero tells Axios. "We're 100% staffed for early voting and Election Day. People are not scared off because of what they're hearing in the news."
- What helps: In Travis County, officials increased pay for poll workers to $20 per hour, Guerrero said.
Hays County Elections Administrator Jennifer Doinoff tells Axios she told poll workers to contact her office if things get contentious at a voting site — and briefed local law enforcement agencies on the new and existing laws on poll watching and electioneering.
Zoom out: U.S. election officials are anticipating unprecedented efforts to disrupt the 2022 election.
- 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.
- Counties across Texas are grappling with security concerns. Last week, officials in Potter County, in the Panhandle, voted to spend $35,000 to increase voting security — with money coming out of a federal pandemic rescue fund.
Dig deeper: Besides Texas, Tactical Training Academy has done de-escalation work this year for local elections officials in Washington, California and Florida, Greg Burns, the firm's emergency management and training director, tells Axios.
- There's far more elections-related work now compared to before the pandemic, he said.
- "Politically driven division means elections employees are facing the possibility of violence at polling stations or targeted acts of violence," Burns says.
The bottom line: "We don't want anyone to feel unsafe, either our voters or workers," Guerrero says.
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