Sep 29, 2021 - Politics

"Deeply disturbing": Minnesota election officials face rising threats

steve simon

Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon at a polling place in November 2020. Photo: Kerem Yucel/AFP via Getty Images

Election officials across Minnesota are facing threats and vitriol from voters questioning the 2020 results, leading some local administrators to consider early retirement, Secretary of State Steve Simon tells Axios in an interview.

  • "There is real anxiety out there among people who run elections," Simon said. "And it's deeply disturbing."

The big picture: False claims that the 2020 election was "stolen"— popularized by former President Trump and other Republicans, including some in Minnesota — are fueling backlash and intimidation campaigns across the country.

  • A Reuters investigation published in September documented more than 100 threats of violence or death targeting election officials and workers since last year's race.

Zoom in: Some threats in Minnesota have been serious and specific enough to be reported to law enforcement. In January, following the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, Simon and his wife had to consider temporarily moving their family into a hotel.

  • "Secretaries of state in other states were getting visits at home from armed protesters, people brandishing guns," he said. "We had to meet with our local police chief and mayor and Capitol Police and come up with a safety plan."

What's changed: Simon's office has seen shifts in both the tenor and the target of complaints from the public. Instead of raising concerns about the actions of specific candidates or campaigns, folks are "alleging that people running elections are involved in the wrongdoing."

  • One July tweet targeting Simon suggested "treason punished by death" was "the only way to deal with them, so it never happens again."

What he's saying: Simon condemned the rhetoric from Trump and others, saying it "eats away at the fabric of democracy and it eats away at the well-deserved confidence people have in elections."

What he's doing: Instead of simply dismissing voters who believe what's become known as "The Big Lie," Simon suggests telling them "you have been misled by people peddling conspiracy theories for their own purposes."

  • "I'm not claiming that's going to break the fever on its own," he said. "But I think that's important because it happens to be true. There are people who have been taken in by these dangerous conspiracy theories”

What to watch: The Justice Department has launched a new task force to investigate and prosecute threats against election officials, in partnership with the FBI and U.S. attorneys offices.

  • Meanwhile, some members of Congress, including U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, are pushing for stronger protections for election workers.
  • Simon said he's also looking into possible state legislative responses.

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