OPINION: Abused in the service of democracy

The day that municipal clerks once looked forward to as the satisfying culmination of their work in the most important duty of their office is less than three weeks away. That day is election day, but this year many clerks are dreading it out of fear they will be targets of threats and harassment.

Twenty percent of Wisconsin’s election clerks say they are considering leaving their jobs because of abuse they were subjected to after the 2020 election, according to a University of Wisconsin survey.

Reuters news agency has documented more than 850 cases in 16 states of election workers being threatened, in some cases with death.

The director of the Milwaukee Election Commission received so many death threats after the 2020 presidential election that the FBI opened an investigation. The director, Claire Woodall-Vogg, recently played recordings of some of the threats for a New Yorker magazine writer, including this one: “You rigged my (profanity) election. We’re going to try you, and we’re going to (profanity) convict your (profanity) ass, and we’re going to hang you.”

Last week, 13 U.S. senators signed a letter to the U.S. Election Assistance Commission calling for help for the states in recruiting replacements for election workers who quit because they were targets of threats.

This abuse of the civil servants who make democracy possible with their administration of the citizen voting process derives directly from the false claim that the 2020 election of Joe Biden as president was the result of voter fraud.

The lie was launched by Donald Trump and his supporters on the night of the election and soon metastasized into conspiracy fantasies so virulent they fueled the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, as well as less violent but numerous attempts to overturn the election and, amplified by irresponsible online media, the intimidation of election officials and workers.

The idea that local election workers conspired to commit crimes resulting in the seven million vote margin by which Biden defeated Trump is not only absurd, but time and again has been proven to be a false claim.

More than 60 courts, including many of them with judges appointed by Trump, have rejected allegations of fraud in the 2020 election. Recounts and audits in a number of states, including Wisconsin, found nothing that would suggest voter fraud or malfeasance by election officials that would change the election outcome. Trump’s attorney general, William Barr, ordered the Department of Justice to investigate claims of election tampering, and no evidence of meaningful voter fraud was found.

The few cases of fraudulent voting verified nationwide—an infinitesimal percentage of votes cast—include invalid votes for both Trump and Biden. A voter fraud case involving a Trump voter is now before a Racine County court.

Harry Wait, leader of a group promoting false claims of fraud in the 2020 election, is charged with felonies and misdemeanors for fraudulently requesting absentee ballots. His defense—that he illegally requested the ballots in the names of Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, the mayor of Racine and other Wisconsin residents as a way to prove voter fraud—sounds something like a thief seeking to avoid prison by claiming he robbed a bank to prove its security was inadequate.

In any case, the ploy failed. A volunteer poll worker in Washington County, retired economics professor Bruce Reynolds, explained why in a report to the Washington County Daily News:

Absentee ballot requests and absentee ballots received are recorded by clerks and their staff. Absentee ballots from unregistered voters are rejected. From a registered voter, only one ballot is accepted. Any attempt at mass fraud by impersonating a voter on absentee ballots would be exposed by the fact that persons whose names were on the ballots would be blocked from voting on election day.

He wrote that as a volunteer poll worker he saw “the enormous effort that backstops our voting, and the many double and triple checks that would quickly bring any significant voter fraud to the surface.”

It is said often these days that the still ongoing campaign to reject the outcome of the 2020 election is a threat to the survival of the American democracy. The harassment and intimidation of the election clerks and their staffs and volunteers who are the foundation of that democracy suggest that fear is well founded.

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Ozaukee Press

Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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