The BDN Editorial Board operates independently from the newsroom, and does not set policies or contribute to reporting or editing articles elsewhere in the newspaper or on bangordailynews.com.
Among a vocal group of people, distrust in government, especially our elections, is high right now. This distrust is fueled in part by former President Donald Trump who has long argued that the 2020 presidential election was rigged. Despite reams of evidence that this wasn’t the case — and the fact that Republican victories in that same election weren’t questioned — Trump and others have suggested that this November’s election will be fraudulent.
Unfortunately, these claims — even without proof — are easily spread through social media and some have prompted interference and mistreatment of workers and volunteers at polling places and town offices. Election officials in Maine and other states report threats, harassment and other interference with their work, which makes their jobs increasingly unpleasant.
Such behavior is especially frustrating — and unwarranted — when Maine’s elections, which rely on paper ballots that are counted locally, are sometimes held up as a model for election security and integrity.
“I enjoy the process of the election,” Bangor City Clerk Lisa Goodwin told Bangor Daily News politics editor Michael Shepherd. “I enjoy all that goes into it but not that outside chatter, and that’s what’s going to burn clerks out.”
Shepherd reported Monday that disinformation on elections is hitting the local officials who administer and oversee voting and vote tallying particularly hard.
He noted that election clerks reported harassment, threats and even a death threat in recent years. This behavior often accompanies charges of election fraud, which studies have found, is exceedingly rare.
The mistreatment of election officials comes at a time when many of those who work in town offices and polling places are nearing retirement age. Already, many communities are struggling to fill jobs in municipal offices.
In a national survey last year from the Brennan Center for Justice, 78 percent of local election officials said their jobs had been made harder by social media, where much disinformation about elections is spread. More than half said it made their jobs more dangerous.
In Maine, lawmakers earlier this year considered a bill to make it a crime to harass or intimidate an election official. This bill originally sought to make such behavior a felony. The legislation that became law created a misdemeanor crime specific to election officials. It also required the Secretary of State’s Office to monitor threats and to provide de-escalation training to local officials. About 30 clerks and deputies have signed up for an Oct. 3 session, according to the office.
“One thing that came up in discussions generally when Secretary [of State Shenna] Bellows took office, and about this bill specifically, was that clerks are in new waters when it comes to dealing with threats and disturbances at work or at polling places,” Emily Cook, a spokesperson for the office, said in an email to the BDN editorial board. “We want to ensure they have the tools they need to protect themselves and our elections.”
We should not be in a place where election clerks need special training to learn how to de-escalate situations where their expertise and professionalism is being challenged, sometimes with threats of violence.
We understand that elections are high-stakes events. But, remember that Maine’s election practices are very secure and that fraud is very rare. If you have questions about your ballot, you can always ask for help. But, threatening or harassing clerks is out of bounds, and should not be tolerated.