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Election officials say efforts to intimidate voters are widening


A resident drops off a mail-in ballot in Philadelphia on Oct. 17, 2022.

By Neil Vigdor and Jon Hurdle


In the final stanza of the midterms, election officials in several states are warning that efforts to intimidate voters and undermine public confidence in the electoral process are intensifying. At the same time, those officials have sought to reassure Americans that voting is safe and secure despite vigilante drop-box watchers and a disinformation campaign targeting mail-in voting.


Here is what some of those officials, already beleaguered by a rise in threats toward them, say they are dealing with:


Central Florida


Election supervisors in several Central Florida counties reported at a news conference Tuesday that early voting totals had slipped, compared with the midterm elections in 2018.


They cited a coordinated misinformation campaign as sowing distrust and confusion about early voting, one led by election deniers who have told voters to wait until Election Day to hand in mail ballots.


“The misconception that holding your vote-by-mail ballot until Election Day and then turning it in is a recipe for disaster,” said Alan Hays, the election supervisor of Lake County, Florida.


Hays, a Republican who has admonished members of his party for spreading falsehoods about the 2020 election, said that the information circulating online was corrosive.


“One of the things that is almost laughable: Some people call and say. ‘Is it true you don’t count the absentee ballots except in close elections?’ Nothing could be further from the truth,” he said.


“Please do not listen to the noise that’s out there on social media,” Hays added.


Florida bars voters from returning mail-in ballots to voting precincts on Election Day, though they can exchange them for regular ballots, election officials said. Mail-in ballots may be returned to early-voting centers or intake sites, but county election officials must receive them by 7 p.m. local time on Nov. 8.


“Really, misinformation is just a long word for lie,” Hays said. “And I think it’s playing a significant role, because people don’t know who to believe. The confidence of the voters is being grossly undermined by these individuals and these organizations that are out there spreading all these lies.”


Philadelphia


In Philadelphia, District Attorney Larry Krasner warned on Wednesday that anyone planning to intimidate voters or election officials would be prosecuted and that law enforcement officers were working to ensure a free and fair election.


At a news conference, Krasner — a second-term Democrat who is facing an impeachment action by Pennsylvania Republican lawmakers who have accused him of failing to address rising crime in the city — singled out extremist groups for efforts to disrupt the midterm elections.


“Some people just don’t get it anymore,” Krasner said. “We are dealing with an alarming national phenomenon of extremism. Jan. 6 happened, and we cannot ignore it.”


He criticized members of groups like the Oath Keepers, Proud Boys and the Three Percenters and issued a warning to those who might try to disrupt the election.


“Your authoritarian, un-American, anti-democratic conduct on Election Day — if it is illegal, we will put you in jail. Bad things will happen in Philly to extremists who come here to try to erase votes.”


He noted that Philadelphia was the biggest and most diverse city in a closely watched swing state in what he called a “superheated” election. He delivered his message as Pennsylvania — with pivotal races for Senate and governor — has become an incubator for misinformation and conspiracy.


“It is an enormous vote generator, so there will be extremists, conspiracy theorists and other wackos, frankly, who are tempted to do things here,” he said of Philadelphia. “You do things here, I guarantee you, there will be lawful, appropriate and just consequences.”


Omar Sabir, vice chair of the Philadelphia City Commissioners, which manages elections and voter registration, sought to assure voters that they would be able to cast their votes freely and safely on Nov. 8, or in advance at drop boxes around the city.


“Rest assured, Philadelphians, it will be safe for you to vote, the same as it’s always been,” said Sabir, a Democrat. “Philadelphia is the birthplace of democracy, and I’ll be damned if democracy dies here in Philadelphia on my watch.”


He said that about 161,000 mail-in ballots had been received so far. He said more completed ballots were expected be dropped off at one of 18 drop boxes around the city that were under 24-hour video surveillance.


Sabir urged voters to put their ballots into designated “secrecy envelopes” and then return envelopes that require a signature and a date. “It’s very simple to complete those steps in order for your vote to be counted,” he said.


Akron, Ohio


Akron’s City Council on Monday unanimously approved a local election interference ordinance that mandates jail time for violators. The ordinance imposes stiffer penalties for attempts to intimidate an election official and bars unauthorized individuals from loitering in polling places to hinder or delay the election process. It also prohibits unauthorized access to or destruction of election materials.


It is similar to a measure that is pending in the state Legislature.


“In recent years, election officials, elections staff and poll workers have faced increased threats and abuse and harassment,” Tara Mosley, a City Council member and sponsor of the ordinance, said during the group’s meeting.


This article originally appeared in The New York Times.



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