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Votes are in: Plan to protect election officials gets a win in committee

(House Photography file photo)
(House Photography file photo)

It’d be hard to argue the statement that political rancor across the country continues to rise.

Unfortunately for people working at the polls — often friends and neighbors — they can find themselves facing the brunt of that hostility for simply ensuring that elections are carried out fairly and by the book.

Without giving specific names and locations, Secretary of State Steve Simon provided three examples of incidents in Minnesota regarding election administrators: one was followed to their car, one was harassed on their home phone and one was “physically accosted” in their office.

Still, Rep. Emma Greenman (DFL-Mpls) noted, Minnesota doesn’t have nearly the problems of some states when it comes to verbal threats, or worse, of election administrators and poll workers, but she knows legislators and others can’t be naïve.

House elections committee hears bill to prohibit intimidation of elections officials, HF635 2/28/23

“I wish we didn’t need this bill, but we do need it in Minnesota,” Simon told the House Elections Finance and Policy Committee Tuesday night.

Greenman sponsors HF635 that would prohibit direct or indirect activities — such as force, coercion, violence, restraint, damage, harm, or loss, including loss of employment or economic reprisal — that interfere with an election official’s ability to conduct an election. Intimidating an official with an intent to influence their performance of duties would also be prohibited. The penalty would generally be a gross misdemeanor; however, civil action could also be brought in certain instances.

As amended, the bill was approved and sent to the House Public Safety Finance and Policy Committee.

Additionally, the bill would prohibit:

  • knowingly distributing personal information about an election official, their family or household members without consent, if doing so poses an “imminent and serious threat” to their safety;
  • intentionally and physically obstructing an election official’s access to any place where the official performs a duty related to election administration;
  • tampering with the polling place roster, ballot box or voting equipment; and
  • unauthorized access to or tampering with statewide voter registration system.

In addition to election administrators, 30,000 poll workers are needed across the state to make Election Day run smoothly. Supporters fear folks will be less likely to initially step up — or not come back — if things don’t change. 

“People didn’t sign up to have a target on their back,” Greenman said.

Added Simon: “We need to protect them.”

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