The upcoming midterm elections are expected to be among the most hotly contested in recent memory. And even in a state like Massachusetts, where Democrats appear to hold the upper hand, the poisonous national atmosphere threatens to seep into the Bay State’s November balloting.

Never has an election worker’s job been more important. And never has it been under such constant threat.

The 2020 elections were secure, accurate and free of all but isolated instances of fraud. It should have been a cause for celebration. Instead, the election revealed widespread threats and intimidation efforts that had poll workers feeling harassed and unsafe.

The most prominent among the beleaguered workers have been Wandrea Moss and her mother, Ruby Freeman.

The two Black women served as election workers in Georgia during the 2020 vote. Moss, testifying last month before the Jan. 6 committee, said she and her mother were targeted with racist abuse and were driven into hiding after Rudy Giuliani, Donald J. Trump’s lawyer, lied that they had rigged the election against the president.

“I’ve lost my name and I’ve lost my reputation,” Freeman said. “Do you know how it feels to have the president of the United States target you?”

Before the same committee, Brad Raffensperger, Georgia’s secretary of state, told members that Trump supporters broke into his widowed daughter-in-law’s house and threatened his wife with sexual violence.

And Al Schmidt, a Republican city commissioner in Philadelphia, got a message saying “your three kids will be fatally shot” after he rejected lies about election fraud in the city.

They are not alone.

Nationwide, 1 in 6 election officials have been threatened because of their job, according to a recent report from the Brennan Center for Justice, a nonpartisan law and policy think tank. A full 77% say they feel those threats have increased in recent years as Trump and his allies continue to perpetuate long-repudiated lies about voter fraud. One in four worry about being assaulted on the job.

The harassment has many veteran election workers giving up their jobs rather than deal with daily fear. Thirty percent of the officials in the Brennan Center poll say they know of one or more colleagues who have quit because of fear for their safety, increased threats, or intimidation. Twenty percent plan to leave before the 2024 election. (Both Moss and Sampson, the Georgia election workers, have already quit their jobs.)

Federal and state governments must do more to protect these workers before the mass exodus drains years of expertise from the system and opens the doors to new workers, many of whom are themselves leading harassment and intimidation campaigns.

After 2020, the federal government set up the Election Threats Task Force with a promise to address the issue. After a year, however, only a single person has been tried and convicted of harassment. That’s out of more than 1,000 cases the task force has evaluated.

“The reaction usually is, ‘Thank you for reporting that; we’ll look into it,’ and there’s no substantive follow-up to understand what they’re doing,” Meagan Wolfe, the president of the National Association of State Election Directors, told The New York Times, leading some “to feel there isn’t adequate support that can deter people from doing this in the future.”

The task force, led by Attorney General Merrick Garland’s Justice Department, clearly needs to be more aggressive in reaching out to election officials reporting abuse. And it needs to work better with local law enforcement, which receives the majority of threat reports, according to the Brennan Center.

And Congress must pass legislation ensuring the safety of election workers. Democratic senators have backed a plan to make it a federal offense for anyone “to intimidate, threaten, coerce, harass, or attempt to intimidate, threaten, coerce, or harass an election worker.” The proposal has thus far been blocked by Republicans, which should give one an idea of the current state of the GOP.

They would do well to reconsider. As one of their own, Liz Cheney, Wyoming congresswoman and co-chair of the Jan. 6 committee put it: “We cannot let America become a nation of conspiracy theories and thug violence.”

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