Richmond Time's Dispatch Op-Ed: For Democracy's Sake, Protect Election Workers

As we head into election season, maintaining our election workers’ safety is critical. Since the 2020 election, election officials across the country have been all too aware that threats of violence and harassment could be made against them while at work. The situation is made worse when officials who report these threats are met with law enforcement officers who cannot or do not act—such as in Fairfax County, where election workers and even the General Registrar feel that the threats to their safety are not being taken seriously.

America is actively losing its most seasoned and experienced poll workers, many of whom are quitting and choosing not to return. Even here in Virginia, the entire Buckingham County Board of Elections quit because of the harassment they faced, and now the county is struggling to run its elections properly. The right that so many of our forefathers and foremothers fought for can just as easily disappear when election workers are afraid to do their jobs. 

Thankfully, states across the country, including Virginia, are tackling this threat head-on.

Bills like Virginia’s SB364, which will better protect election officials, are moving through state legislatures nationwide, many with bipartisan support. Some states like Missouri and Nebraska have already passed bills to protect election officials. Virginia has a responsibility to do the same. 

Our most vulnerable and underrepresented communities face the biggest challenges to their right to vote. Election workers play a valuable role in ensuring that all people can participate in our elections: They provide critical information on the electoral process, help new voters register to vote, greet voters at the polls, assist elderly voters, troubleshoot problems with machines, and much more. We trust election officials to keep our elections free and fair, and, as administrations and electeds come and go, they are the ones who keep our democracy going. We need to mobilize our collective power as voters and Virginians to make it known that we will not allow our poll workers and election officials to be threatened, harassed, and abused. We need to make poll workers a protected class in this state.

Our election workers are our neighbors and our friends. Many of the election workers I know personally are women, who are even more at risk of the violent and sexualizing threats that election workers around the country are receiving as they work to uphold our right to vote. The threats aimed at election workers most often come from men and contain sexualizing and sexist language. The deterrence of this violence and protection of election officers as front-line workers in running our elections is of the utmost importance to our democracy. We cannot expect the most experienced and well-intentioned people to be the ones occupying these positions if we allow them to be attacked and threatened again and again. 

Our collective right to vote, the security of our elections, and the safety of our communities hang in the balance as the General Assembly votes on whether our election workers will receive the protection they need to do their jobs safely. The Assembly should pass SB364 because the safe administration of our elections is not a partisan issue but rather a core component of a functioning democracy.

View it here on the Richmond Times Dispatch Website