As difficult as it has historically been to recruit competent, non-partisan election officials and pollworkers, a new survey suggests its about to become much worse. As we discuss in detail on today's BradCast, that is thanks, in no small part, to persistent threats by Trump's MAGA Mob against local election officials in the wake of his Big Lie that the 2020 election was stolen from him. It's made even worse by state GOP officials translating that lie into new laws that further undermine America's democratic experiment. [Audio link to full show follows this summary.]
But FIRST UP today, a quick follow up underscoring our reporting on yesterday's program, warning about the rise of a new COVID variant (known as BA2, or "stealth Omicron" or "Deltacron") that many seem to be wanting to imagine away. Also several quick updates on the latest news from Russia's relentless bombing and war crimes against Ukraine, as peace talks inch forward, and as at least two Fox "News" journalist are confirmed to have been killed outside of Kyiv.
THEN, on to our main story today. In recent months, Reuters has been unfolding a series of excellent investigative reports on the various, horrific threats issued against election officials by those who bought into Trump's evidence-free claims that the 2020 election was stolen. But GOP state lawmakers have been ignoring those menacing threats and using the Big Lie to create actual legislation allowing them to purge dedicated, non-partisan election officials --- including Republicans seen as not Republican enough --- from their roles and replacing them with partisan operatives.
Brennan Center's recent survey of local election administrators finds that, more than a year after the Trump-incited attack on the U.S. Capitol, one in six officials say they "have experienced threats because of their job." More than half of respondents are "concerned about the safety of their colleagues"; 30 percent "know of one or more election workers who have left at least in part because of fear for their safety, increased threats, or intimidation"; and, perhaps most troubling, 20 percent of them now plan to leave their jobs before the 2024 election, with many "citing political leaders’ attacks on a system they know is fair and honest as one of their top reasons for leaving."
Meanwhile, many officials who would like to continue in their jobs are being pushed out thanks to new laws allowing partisan County Commissions in Georgia, for example, to replace longtime Board of Elections officials like Georgia's civil rights icon Helen Butler (who we interviewed about this late last year) in Morgan County, and 27-year Floyd County Board of Elections veteran Vanessa Waddell, who, with the entire Board in the deeply Republican County, was removed from her post, as documented by WaPo yesterday. That, even after she successfully oversaw last year's U.S. Senate runoff elections in the state amid persistent death threats that resulted in some officials in her office deciding they needed to come to work with pepper spray and stun guns to stay safe.
Leon County, Florida's now-retired 30-year veteran Supervisor of Elections, ION SANCHO, is furious about all of this. He joins us today to discuss these growing threats to our teetering American democracy. Sancho, who retired in 2016, is one of our nation's great election officials. He was so well-regarded by his peers, of all political persuasions, that he was tapped to oversee the wildly contentious and eventually-aborted 2000 Presidential recount in Florida. He was also a central figure in HBO's landmark, 2006 Emmy-nominated documentary, Hacking Democracy, detailing the first public hack of a computerized voting tabulator.
What is going on today, he explains, makes him both angry and deeply concerned about American democracy. "Election officials all over the country, irrespective of partisan affiliation, have been tragically attacked because of our ex-President's lie. The most horrible lie about our elections, frankly, in my lifetime," he tells me, adding that it makes his "head explode".
"It's not being dealt with at all. That's why election officials are subject to the most vile attacks, because the supporters --- the cultists, if you want to call them that --- believe that election was stolen, and this is such a bald-faced lie. It's a tragic lie. It's a stupid lie. And it demonstrates the ignorance of the American citizenry about our elections."
Sancho argues that "we are in the process of destroying a model of non-partisan election administration that has taken decades to build."
"Most election officials are administrators, not activists, not individuals who are used to dealing with the political process, except as standing away from it and facilitating elections. We take oaths to be non-partisan," he continues. "One of the proudest moments of my life was the creation of helping write the standards of codes and conduct for the Elections Center, to apply to all national election officials, putting loyalty to the principles of fair and honest elections over anything else."
Of course, over The BRAD BLOG's nearly 20 years of reporting on elections and voting processes and vulnerable computerized voting and tabulation systems --- much of which Sancho has followed closely over those years --- we've had our own fair share of criticism for some election officials (not to mention almost every voting system vendor). Some of that has resulted in occasional criticism that we are "attacking" election officials or pollworkers ourselves. So, how is our attempt to hold feet to the fire any different from what Sancho sees coming from the American MAGA Right?
"The difference is that you are focusing on specific issues of provable fact," Sancho responds. "That's different than the kind of criticism that we have right now. Your criticism doesn't threaten the democratic experiment. And where we find ourselves now is that the great American experiment, our democracy, is being threatened. It's being destroyed by individuals who would rather believe a narcissistic liar than understand the truth."
Sancho has MUCH more to say on all of this, including thoughts on new legislation heading to Florida's Republican Governor and Presidential hopeful Ron DeSantis that would give him what Sancho describes as "the Governor's private police force on elections."
"That's part of the intimidation," he argues. "Now we're seeing a secret police in the state of Florida for elections. Florida is, unfortunately, one of the leaders of this effort nationally to change non-partisan fair elections into something else."
Sancho concedes "it's hard for me to see how we get around this," though he does offer at least some ideas for solutions to find our way out of this nightmare, including laws to specifically prevent threats against election administrators. "It should be illegal to threaten an election official for the purposes of intimidating them from doing their job and counting the votes. That should be illegal, and it is not."
"We've got to turn this around," Sancho insists. "ALL legal citizens should have the right to vote accessibly, and have that vote counted as they intended, and then we should audit the elections to confirm the validity of that election. That's as simple as it can be, and yet we're very far away from that, as you know."
"What were supposed to be laboratories of democracy," he charges, are now "50 citadels of repression." As suggested, we think Sancho is an American hero. He's on fire today and, as ever, worth tuning in to hear in full.
Finally, Desi Doyen joins us for our latest Green News Report today, with bad news for climate changed Australia and our global fossil fuel dependence, highlighted yet again by Russia's war on Ukraine. She also has a bit of good news for breathers, however, as President Biden's EPA announces critical new regulations on smog and vehicle emissions that will save thousands of American lives...
(Snail mail support to "Brad Friedman, 7095 Hollywood Blvd., #594 Los Angeles, CA 90028" always welcome too!)