COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Tonya Wichman has run elections in a rural Ohio county for eight years and has had no significant problems with voting or counting ballots. But that doesn't mean there isn't much to worry about at all.
What concerns her is the frequent harassment, intimidation and even physical threats she and her staff have faced since the 2020 election. Things got so bad before the 2022 midterm elections that their employees received police protection when leaving or entering the office.
That's why she was interested in it the accusation this week by former President Donald Trump and 18 other people were charged in an alleged conspiracy to overturn the 2020 election results in Georgia. The indictment names, among other things, several people who are accused of a campaign of harassment that led to death threats against two Atlanta election workers.
This is the largest effort to hold people accountable to date The target audience is state or local election officialsmany of them have have given up their work after facing political pressure or threats from those who falsely believe the 2020 Presidential election was manipulated.
“It's nice to know that people are listening,” said Wichman, a Republican and election official in Defiance County, where Trump won over 67% of the vote in 2020.
“We understand the First Amendment and the right to free speech, but harassing poll workers and election officials, intimidating their families, just wears people down and causes good people to leave their jobs,” she said. “There is unrest across the country.”
Intimidation of poll workers is a key element Conspiracy Alleged in Georgia Case. Tuesday's indictment alleges that several of the defendants falsely accused Fulton County poll worker Ruby Freeman of committing election crimes and that some defendants traveled from out of state to harass and intimidate her.
The indictment accuses Trump of making false statements and writings in claims he made to Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger and other state election officials on January 2, 2021 – including that up to 300,000 ballots were “mysteriously cast.” Wisely fell into the voter rolls,” and even more than 4,500 people voted who were not on the registration lists, and that Freeman was a “professional voter fraudster.”
Rudy Giuliani, then a close Trump adviser against whom charges are also being brought The Georgia case is accused of making multiple false claims about the vote counting process at State Farm Arena in Atlanta. Prosecutors say he falsely claimed that county election workers stationed there kicked out observers and then “went about their dirty, crooked business” and illegally counted up to 24,000 ballots. He also said that three poll workers – Freeman, her daughter Wandrea “Shaye” Moss and an unidentified man – passed around USB ports “as if they were vials of heroin or cocaine” to infiltrate Dominion voting machines.
Three other defendants in the Georgia case – Harrison William Prescott Floyd, Trevian C. Kutti and Stephen Cliffgard Lee – were charged with solicitation of false statements and writings and influencing witnesses in connection with the harassment of Freeman by Trump and others was falsely accused of committing fraud.
It was not immediately clear who represented any of the three.
Edward B. Foley, director of election law at The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law, said the Georgia charges were in addition to the allegations Case of the federal election against Trump and a Defamation lawsuit against Fox News start sending a message.
“There was a feeling that there was a battle against all, that people could attack the election with impunity and that they could attack certain individuals with impunity,” he said. “You have to believe that all of these charges – no matter how they end up in court and whether there is a conviction or not – have changed the legal landscape and will make people think twice about this type of behavior.”
Several other cases concern Threats against election workers have attracted attention in recent weeks. Earlier this month, a Texas man who threatened election officials in Arizona and called for a mass shooting of poll workers was sentenced to three and a half years in federal prison.
Last week, the U.S. Department of Justice filed charges against a 37-year-old Indiana man accused of threatening a Michigan election official. The target of that call was Tina Barton, a Republican and elections director in the Detroit suburb of Rochester Hills.
She said she was relieved when charges were finally filed in her case, three years after she received a voicemail with a profanity-laced message threatening to kill her and accusing her of fraud in the 2020 election: “You know what, you’re going to pay for it. You’re going to pay for this,” the caller said, according to court documents.
In the years since, Barton said she has feared for her safety and that of her family.
“The political atmosphere is currently so tense on both sides that it is difficult to talk about anything like this. Including something that poses an actual threat to someone’s life,” she said. “It becomes isolating.”
The call that led to the charges was just one of many she received in the weeks following the 2020 presidential election, but the others were not considered a “real threat” under federal law's high bar. Only intent to cause immediate harm is considered a crime – something that is intended to protect free speech but can provide little comfort to those who are victims of harassment.
A Justice Department election Threat Task Force The company, founded in June 2021, has reviewed more than 2,000 harassing or threatening messages sent to poll workers. Federal prosecutors have filed federal criminal charges in more than a dozen of these cases, including the Texas man.
In Georgia, the indictment alleges that Floyd recruited Kutti, who flew from Chicago to Atlanta on January 4, 2021, to contact Freeman. Lee, the indictment says, communicated with Floyd by telephone. The indictment says Kutti, Floyd and Lee all violated the law by “knowingly and unlawfully engaging in deceptive conduct toward Ruby Freeman … by claiming that she was in need of protection and by pretending to provide her with assistance.” with the intent to influence their testimony before a public official.” Proceedings in Fulton County, Georgia.”
Freeman and her daughter testified before Congress last year that Trump and his allies used surveillance footage from November 2020 to accuse both women of voter fraud – allegations that were quickly debunked but spread widely in conservative media. Both women faced death threats for several months after the election.
Colorado Secretary of State Jena Griswold has tried to counter the threats through legislation.
Last year, she worked with state lawmakers on a bill that would designate poll workers as a protected class from doxxing – the publication of a person's personal information online. This makes the practice a misdemeanor and allows poll workers to remove their personal information from online records. It also makes threatening an election official a misdemeanor under state law.
Colorado is one of 12 states that must pass Laws protecting election workerseither by protecting their personal information, increasing penalties for harassment, or both, according to data from the nonprofit Voting Rights Lab.
“There are many states that don't take threats against election officials, most of whom are women, seriously enough,” Griswold said, noting that she continues to face a steady stream of threats even during periods of lull in the campaign . “This was undoubtedly the most difficult part of my job.”
Associated Press writers Christina A. Cassidy in Atlanta and Lindsay Whitehurst in Washington, DC, contributed to this report.