Top election officials in a Senate hearing Tuesday detailed the stream of death threats and harassment that followed them after Donald Trump lied about his 2020 presidential election loss.
“Tell the truth or your three kids will be fatally shot,” Al Schmidt, a Republican city commissioner on the Philadelphia Board of Elections, quoted one such threat to him.
“RINO stole election, we steal lives,” read another threat.
Another said: “Cops can’t help you. heads on spikes, treasonous Schmidts.”
Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, the state’s top election official and a Democrat, testified that “armed protesters” gathered in front of her house, chanting, “Katie come out and play. We are watching you,” after Trump lied that his loss in the state was due to election fraud.
“As an elected official, I expected that sometimes I would have constituents who were unhappy with me,” Hobbs said. “But I never expected that holding this office would result in far-right trolls threatening my children, threatening my husband’s employment at a children’s hospital or calling my office saying I deserve to die and asking, ‘What is she wearing today, so she’ll be easy to get.’”
The hearing before the Senate Rules Committee was designed to gather testimony from state and local election officials about the torrent of harassment and death threats that followed Trump’s lies about the 2020 election. The hearing was part of Democrats’ push to pass voting rights legislation that includes new protections for election officials.
The bill introduces new felony crimes for threatening, intimidating and disclosing personal information of election workers. It also expands the number of those workers who qualify for such protection.
Since Trump’s various attempts to overturn his loss, state and local election officials, in areas of all political stripes, have faced a torrent of constant harassment and death threats. One in three election officials now feel unsafe in their job, and one in five believe death threats to be a main job concern, according to a report by the Brennan Center for Justice, a nonprofit that backs voting rights legislation.
The Trump-inspired threats specifically followed officials targeted by the former president. Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger and those in his office faced constant death threats after the Republican election official refused Trump’s request that he “find” enough votes to reverse the state’s election outcome.
“It has to stop,” Gabriel Sterling, the Republican head of Georgia’s voting system, said with great emotion at a Dec. 1, 2020, news conference. “Stop inspiring people to commit potential acts of violence. Someone is going to get hurt, someone is going to get shot, someone is going to get killed. And it’s not right.”
Raffensperger and his family were harassed and received constant death threats. “We plan for the death of you and your family every day,” one text to his wife read.
The committee witnesses also recounted how they, their families and those working for them received and still receive threats and harassment.
Hobbs stated that her son’s phone number was posted online, and callers to the children’s hospital where her husband worked made false allegations about him committing crimes in an attempt to have him fired.
She also explained how non-election workers in the secretary of state’s office, in divisions such as business services, were also targeted with death threats and harassment that was not only frightening but prevented them from doing their actual work.
“For my office, it’s been nearly constant,” Hobbs said. “It’s wearing them down.”
Schmidt said that he struggled with whether talking about these threats publicly would just confirm to the perpetrators that he read their texts or heard their calls.
But, Schmidt said, “it’s important to know exactly who these people are.”
Kentucky Secretary of State Michael Adams, a Republican, noted that not all threats to election workers in 2020 came from Trump backers. He said that his office received harassment after notable Democratic political figures, such as Hilllary Clinton, and celebrities including Ellen DeGeneres and LeBron James claimed that a decision by his office to cut the number of in-person polling locations for the state’s June 23, 2020, primary constituted voter suppression. The primary ultimately saw record turnout.
Adams did note that most of the harassment was just that, with limited death threats.
In Arizona, the political response to Trump’s lies and the death threats targeting Hobbs and other election officials was to pass legislation stripping Hobbs of authority over elections for the 2022 election and impose a raft of new voting restrictions. They also authorized a partisan “audit” of the 2020 vote aimed at confirming Trump’s baseless claims, although the so-called audit eventually found that Trump did, in fact, lose.
Republicans running the Pennsylvania legislature would like to pass new voting restrictions, but Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf would veto them. Instead, they are also pursuing an “audit” of the state’s vote in pursuit of upholding Trump’s lies.
Hobbs urged the Senate committee to take action to enact legislation to further protect election officials as these threats increase.
“Now it’s your turn,” she said. “Continued inaction in the face of these threats to undermine democracy will have dire consequences.”