Republican lawmakers in Texas, following in the footsteps of their counterparts across the country, are pressing forward with a voting bill that could impose harsh penalties on election officials or poll workers who are thought to have committed errors or violations. And the nationwide effort may be pushing poll workers to reconsider serving their communities.
The often thankless task of millions of workers who administer the country’s elections has quickly become a key target of Republicans who are propagating former President Donald J. Trump’s lies about the 2020 election. In their hunt for nonexistent fraud, they have turned on those who work the polls as somehow suspect.
That attitude has seeped into new voting laws and bills put forward by Republican-controlled legislatures across the country. More than two dozen bills in nine states, either still making their way through legislatures or signed into law, have sought to establish harsh new penalties, elevated criminal classifications and five-figure fines for state and local election officials who are found to have made mistakes, oversteps or other violations of election codes, according to a review of voting legislation by The New York Times.
The infractions that could draw more severe punishment run the gamut from seemingly minor lapses in attention or innocent mistakes to more clearly willful actions in defiance of regulations.
With the threat of felonies, jail time and fines as large as $25,000 hanging over their heads, election officials, as well as voting rights groups, are growing increasingly worried that the new penalties will not only limit the work of election administrators but also have a chilling effect on their willingness to do the job.