Violent threats targeting 2020 election officials continue: NPR
SARAH MCCAMMON, HOST:
Earlier in the program, we heard about efforts underway in Congress to pass a ballot bill. We will now focus on the people who actually oversee the voting process in this country. And that’s because many are speaking out against the violent and disturbing threats they have received and continue to receive months after the 2020 election.
According to a Brennan Center for Justice report released earlier this week, 1 in 3 election officials say they feel unsafe because of their job, and nearly one in 5 cite threats to their life as a concern related to his work. Election officials also face threats within the government. As the Brennan Center reports, in many states, party leaders have censored election officials who defended the 2020 election as safe and reliable. And in some places, state legislatures have taken steps to strip election officials of their power.
We will now focus on the experience of one of these officials, Al Schmidt. He’s a Philadelphia city commissioner, a Republican in his third term running the city’s election. Commissioner Schmidt is joining us now. Welcome to the program.
AL SCHMIDT: Thanks, Sarah.
MCCAMMON: I want to start with what the last seven months have been for you. For those who may not know, you and your family have received numerous death threats, horrible emails that have been sent to your wife. And I want to say that these are disturbing. But just to give an idea of what you’ve been through, I want to read part of it. That said, Albert RINO Schmidt will be fatally shot. He called, quote, “head on point” and described your family as betrayal and included pictures of your house, as I understand it. Another message listed the names of your children.
How did it go ? I mean, how do you and your family start to cope with something like this?
SCHMIDT: Well, this is probably my 10th or 11th major election that I have overseen. And the 2020 general election was unlike any other. And usually in an election you have campaigns competing with other campaigns. Candidates attack other candidates. And really, what we’ve had this last presidential election is campaigns and candidates, or one in particular, attacking election officials. Referees are generally not approached. And that’s basically what we saw this last time around.
MCCAMMON: And I want to note that this was happening, of course, all the way to the top. In November 2020, former President Trump specifically referred to you as RINO or Republican in name only. He mentioned you in a tweet and he said that you were being used, I quote, “a lot by the fake media to explain how fair things were about the election in Philadelphia. We are winning.” You know, as a Republican, how do you understand the fact that these threats often come from extremely prominent members of your own party?
SCHMIDT: Well, that’s really when the threats started to come in in a more specific form. So earlier the threats were general threats against us as election officials in Philadelphia. It was after that time that they started to quote me by name. I was getting text messages. My wife on her work email was getting threats, and they were very detailed. And they were mostly focused on our kids.
So if the point of all of this is bullying, then it makes sense that they did it the way they did because obviously I couldn’t be home. My wife and children had to leave our house and go to another place. We had 24 hour security details with police detectives.
So it’s strange to me – not only that this is all happening because it’s awful, but it’s from my own party. And I’m not the only one, obviously, to have experienced it. I am just one of many election officials across the country who have experienced it. And some of the worst seem to be targeting Republicans, like Georgia’s secretary of state and others.
MCCAMMON: Can you help us understand how we got here? I mean, maybe this seems like an obvious question. But is it only due to President Trump, or did you see it coming?
SCHMIDT: So there are two things. So in a very parochial sense, in Philadelphia, we certainly saw it coming. About a month or two before the election, the president started – and his kind of associates started tweeting him on social media and elsewhere about Philadelphia. And then in the debate alone, the president said bad things had happened in Philadelphia. You made Newt Gingrich say that we should send the military to organize the elections in Philadelphia. Like, there was – we could certainly see it become the biggest city in the biggest swing state in the United States.
You know, the former president didn’t create that environment. He exploited it. So there was already something to exploit. And I’m not sure if that’s because of stratification for people pulling information from different sources, unreliable sources, misinformation, and misinformation, but there was certainly an environment already there that he did. was able to exploit.
MCCAMMON: I know it’s basically your job to oversee the counting of the votes. But as a person who thinks a lot about it and has been personally affected by it, do you think there is a solution here? And what about the protection of election officials and election workers at all levels who do this work? What measures should or could be taken?
SCHMIDT: The recent Brennan Center report included a very good section on the need to protect election administrators across the country when these threats occur. So at the local level, it is a matter of physically securing them. At the federal level, it’s really about sharing information and intelligence so that the perpetrators of these threats can be identified, investigated and, if warranted, ultimately prosecuted. .
Just, you know, on the – on a personal level, you know, you end up – with every move you make, you’re followed by, you know, police detectives. We had to install a really complete security system at home. And that was about, you know, a month’s pay. And I’m sure a lot of election officials can’t afford it. So I think there are a few steps that can be …
MCCAMMON: And was it out of your pocket?
SCHMIDT: Yeah, yeah. I’m sure there are steps that can be taken both to maybe help election officials when this happens to improve, you know, the physical security of their homes. But, you know, it’s weird. I hear myself talking, and it all seems so unthinkable and absurd that anyone whose job is just to count the voters’ votes in a democracy should install cameras and install a security system and be monitored by security.
MCCAMMON: It was Al Schmidt, City Commissioner of Philadelphia. Thank you very much for joining us.
SCHMIDT: Thanks, Sarah.
MCCAMMON: And stay safe.
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