Federal prosecutors warn against threatening election workers

Federal prosecutors on Monday announced that they have opened dozens of investigations into threats directed at election workers. File Photo by Bonnie Cash/UPI
Federal prosecutors on Monday announced that they have opened dozens of investigations into threats directed at election workers. File Photo by Bonnie Cash/UPI | License Photo

March 26 (UPI) -- As the United States heads into the November presidential election, federal prosecutors are warning that threats made against election officials will be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.

The Biden administration has been prosecuting such cases under its Election Threats Task Force, which was launched in June 2021 to address the numerous threats election workers faced following the 2020 presidential election.


On Monday, John Keller, the official who leads the force's day-to-day operations, told reporters during a press conference in Arizona that it has opened dozens of investigations into threats communicated to election officials.

Some 20 defendants in those cases have been charged, he said, resulting in 13 convictions.

Of those convictions, 10 defendants have been sentenced, with seven of them receiving jail terms of 18 months to 3 1/2 years, "signaling how seriously the federal courts are taking this conduct," Keller said.


"This new era in which the election community is scapegoated, targeted and attacked, is unconscionable and, in addition to the obvious toll taken by individual victims, risks depleting the ranks of experienced elections officials vital to the effective administration of our elections," he said.

Among those sentenced was Joshua Russell, a 46-year-old Ohio man, who was sentenced Monday to 2 1/2 years in prison for sending death threats in 2022 to the office of Katie Hobbs, who was then Arizona's secretary of state.

Russell pleaded guilty in August to one count of making a threatening interstate communication for sending Hobbs, who is now Arizona's governor, a series of voicemails threatening her life between Aug. 2 and Nov. 15, 2022.

Russell's conviction comes less than two weeks after James Clark, 38, of Falmouth, Mass., was sentenced to 3 1/2 years in prison for threatening to blow up Hobbs with an explosive device in the wake of the Jan. 6 assault on the U.S. Capitol.

And in late February, a man from Alabama was charged with threatening Arizona election workers in Maricopa County in August 2020.

Gary Restaino, U.S. attorney for the district of Arizona, told reporters there have been seven federal cases involving people from out-of-state threatening Arizona's election officials -- a development that he described as a trend.


"This group of Arizona election officials, like election officials across the country, has faced an onslaught of unfounded hostility for nothing more than dutifully and reliably doing their jobs," Restaino said.

The federal officials said the threats not only target the election workers they were sent to, but U.S. democracy, as it has forced many qualified officials to vacate the profession.

According to a report published in March 2022 by the Brennan Center for Justice, more than 75% of local election officials said threats against them have increased in recent years, with nearly 33% knowing at least one worker who has left their job partially because of fears for their safety.

"We are seeing resignations from election officials across the country and what they are reporting is often times the reason they are leaving the role is because of the threats and the harassment that they and their colleagues and sometimes their families face," Keller said.

Restaino said there was a common denominator in many of the cases, specifically "election denialists announcing an intent to violently punish those who they believe who have wronged them, often with the threat of arrests leading to executions for treasons.

"There is no constitutional right to vigilantism," he said.


Keller said that not all threats leveled at election workers meet the level of charges, but warned that they examine each and every one reported.

He said their work to hold those accountable for lobbing threats at election workers is not done and that the department "will continue to vigorously pursue anyone who criminally threats or targets the election community.

"This behavior is insidious with potentially grave consequences for individual victims and for the institution of election administration as a whole," he said.

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