This attitude has crept into new election laws and bills introduced by Republican-controlled legislatures across the country. More than two dozen bills in nine states, either still being drafted in legislatures or signed into law, have sought to establish a series of tough new penalties, high criminal classifications and five-figure fines. for state and local election officials who are found to have committed errors, errors, overruns and other violations of the election code, according to a review of election law by The New York Times.
Violations that could result in stiffer penalties range from seemingly minor loss of attention or innocent mistakes to more clearly deliberate actions in defiance of regulations. In Texas, any action which “would render the observation not reasonably effective” for a poll observer would result in further penalties. In Florida, not having an election worker constantly supervising a drop box would result in significant fines. Willingly flouting new laws, like those in states like Iowa and Texas that prohibit mailing ballots to voters who did not request them, would also result in stiffer penalties.
“The default assumption that county election officials are bad actors is problematic,” said Chris Davis, the county election administrator for Williamson County, Texas, north of Austin. “There are so many moving parts and things going on in any given polling station, and innocent mistakes, though infrequent, can happen. And attributing criminal or civil liability to some of these things is problematic. This is a major problem that we have. “
“These election officials never, in our experience, intend to count invalid votes, or to let someone who is not eligible to vote, or to prevent someone who is eligible to vote,” said Davis, whose role is non-partisan. “Yet we see this as a baseline, a sort of fundamental principle in some of the bills being drafted. And I don’t know where it came from, because it’s not based on reality.
With the threat of crimes, jail time and fines of up to $ 25,000 hanging over their heads, election officials, as well as voting rights groups, are increasingly concerned that the new sanctions will not only limit the work of election administrators, but also chill out their willingness to do the job.