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Why the ugly campaign against local poll workers matters

Many poll workers who don't want to deal with threats of violence or harsh, Republican-imposed penalties for possible errors, are likely to just quit.

Americans who've voted in person at their local precinct have met important people who tend to go overlooked: volunteer poll workers. These folks, many of whom are elderly, tend not to get much attention, but by checking in voters and handing out ballots, they're at the front lines of our democracy.

They're also facing unprecedented pressures from the right.

The New York Times reported last month, for example, that more than two dozen proposals have been introduced in Republican-controlled legislatures, seeking to "establish a rash of harsh new penalties," including steep fines and possible criminal charges, that would be imposed on election officials who make mistakes.

The point of such efforts is hardly subtle. As Jon Chait recently noted, for election workers who resist the urge to quit, "these penalties will cause election workers to err heavily on the side of vote suppression."

But there's another dimension to this that's every bit as important. Reuters ran a striking report today on "the continuing barrage of threats and intimidation against election officials and their families months after former U.S. President Donald Trump's November election defeat."

Trump's relentless false claims that the vote was "rigged" against him sparked a campaign to terrorize election officials nationwide – from senior officials such as [Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger] to the lowest-level local election workers.... The ongoing harassment could have far-reaching implications for future elections by making the already difficult task of recruiting staff and poll workers much harder, election officials say.

Much of the report quoted hair-raising threats against prominent election officials who've infuriated the right for one reason or another, but Reuters added that "many others whose lives have been threatened were low- or mid-level workers, just doing their jobs."

As a consequence, election officials are likely to lose "critical employees with years or decades of experience," who don't want to deal with threats of violence or harsh, Republican-imposed penalties for possible errors.

All of which serves as a reminder that Trump's lies come with dangerous consequences -- for our society, for our system of elections, and for those who do their civic duty at local voting precincts nationwide.