Election lies pose physical threat to US poll workers, House report warns

·2 min read
<span>Photograph: Jim Urquhart/Reuters</span>
Photograph: Jim Urquhart/Reuters

A sweeping US House oversight committee report has warned that lies and misinformation around the 2020 American presidential election present an “ongoing threat to representative democracy” and pose a grave physical danger to election officials.

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The 21-page report called for emergency funding to address increased security costs related to 2022 contests and warned that there was a much-heightened risk that conspiracy theorists could gain power over elections in the future.

The report also detailed chilling threats against election administrators across the country. One Texas official received menacing messages targeting him and “threatening his children, saying, ‘I think we should end your bloodline.’” The messages against him came following “personal attacks on national media outlets”.

Another threat included a social media call to “hang him when convicted for fraud and let his lifeless body hang in public until maggots drip out of his mouth”.

The committee started investigating the impact of lies surrounding election administration in early 2021. After former Donald Trump lost the 2020 election, he falsely insisted that the election was stolen from him.

While there is no evidence that the 2020 election had irregularities, let alone widespread fraud, many Trump supporters still believe in the “big lie”. This falsehood energized a mob of Trump supporters to attack the US Capitol during the January 6 2020 insurrection.

The House committee said that conspiracy theorists, “led by former President Donald Trump and his supporters”, have fueled threats against election officials. Several in Florida publicized an election supervisor’s phone number and encouraged listeners to call and say “that they are watching him, that he is a piece of crap, and that these are their elections”.

The committee’s analysis described lies about elections as operating as a positive feedback mechanism. The report said: “The spread of false information about elections harms nearly every element of election administration.”

“For the past two years, election misinformation in the United States has often followed a feedback loop that produces more false information, heightens threats and pressures on election administrators, and increases the possibility of election subversion,” the report said.

“Conspiracy theorist candidates across the country have gained notoriety and run for office with the explicit goal of overturning election results,” it added.

The report said that the spread of misinformation has exerted enormous pressure on election officials, who are swarmed with “coordinated campaigns of records requests and bad faith inquiries” to interfere with their work.

Meanwhile, lawmakers in some states seized on the chaos to greenlight laws that make illegal minor mistakes by election officials, which “allow partisan actors to intervene in ballot counting and certification”.

These statutes, along with the confusion and distrust that has grown since 2020, “have paved multiple pathways for the future subversion of legitimate election results,” the report said.