Sep 14, 2023 - News

Michigan election workers want more protections ahead of 2024

Jocelyn Benson at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on threats to election workers last August. Photo: Al Drago/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Clerks and election workers are expecting another drama-filled election in 2024 and are urging lawmakers for help.

Why it matters: Election workers and voters have faced threats since former President Trump began falsely telling his supporters he won the 2020 election.

  • Enacting laws to protect election workers from harassment is one of the priorities Gov. Gretchen Whitmer laid out in her fall agenda.

Driving the news: House Bills 4129 and 4130, sponsored by state Rep. Kara Hope (D-Holt) would make it a felony to intimidate a clerk or poll worker, or otherwise prevent them from performing their duties.

  • Punishment would be up to five years in prison or a $1,000 fine.

Catch up quick: Lawmakers implemented Prop 2 this session, which initiates a mandatory nine days of early in-person voting starting with February's presidential primary.

Yes, but: Democrats say more specific language is needed to protect poll workers, who have faced unprecedented harassment from voters over the last three years.

  • Last month, an Indiana man was charged for threatening to kill former Rochester Hills clerk Tina Barton for defending the integrity of the 2020 election.

The latest: Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson testified Tuesday before a Michigan House Elections Committee focused on the bills, saying the level of harassment workers have received as a result of misinformation is unsustainable.

  • "We cannot allow anyone to attempt to interfere with an election by threatening or intimidating our election officials," Benson said.
  • She cited a recent survey by the nonpartisan Brennan Center for Justice that found nearly three-quarters of local election officials nationwide say threats have increased in recent years.
  • One in three said they have experienced harassment or abuse, with more than half reporting being threatened in person.

The other side: Rep. Rachelle Smit, a West Michigan Republican and a former township clerk, who told Benson she's personally been harassed while working recent elections, pointed out that the state does not have a system in place to keep track of election officials who report mistreatment.

  • "I just want to make sure we're coming up with a solution for this, not just more laws on the books and nothing really being done about them," Smit said at the committee panel.

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