The Justice Department on Wednesday told state officials across the country they can use federal grant money to help protect election workers from a growing number of threats following the 2020 election.
A letter to state administrators of a law enforcement grant program said the funds could be used “to deter, detect, and protect against threats of violence against election workers, administrators, officials, and others associated with the electoral process.”
The Justice Assistance Grant program that will distribute the funds is more commonly used for a wide variety of criminal justice matters, but acting Bureau of Justice Assistance Director Kristen Mahoney said the money “may be used to prevent and respond to violent threats of this kind.”
The rising number of threats against election officials has been a priority for attorney general Merrick Garland, who in June wrote a memo to federal prosecutors directing them to more aggressively prosecute those making threats against election administrators.
“We have not been blind to the dramatic increase in menacing and violent threats against all manner of state and local election workers, ranging from the highest administrators to volunteer poll workers,” Garland said in a speech earlier that month forecasting the guidance.
“Such threats undermine our electoral process and violate a myriad of federal laws.”
The Justice Department’s election threats task force last week filed its first charges against a Texas man accused of making threats against election officials that reportedly include Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger (R).
Distrust of election officials began to heat up in the fall of 2020 when then-President Trump called on his base to go to polling stations and make sure ballots weren’t “manipulated” — a move some experts said could violate voter intimidation laws.
“I’m urging my supporters to go into the polls and watch very carefully, because that’s what has to happen. I am urging them to do it,” Trump said in a September 2020 debate.
“I hope it’s going to be a fair election, and if it’s a fair election, I am 100 percent on board. But if I see tens of thousands of ballots being manipulated, I can’t go along with that,” Trump added.
In a speech ahead of the anniversary of the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol, Garland said election workers were among those facing specific threats, alongside other election officials and airline workers and journalists.
“Some have been told that their offices would be bombed. Some have been told that they would be murdered, and precisely how — that they would be hanged; that they would be beheaded,” he said.