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Tuesday’s hearing of the select committee of the House investigating the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol ended with perhaps the most emotional segment of the hearings to date: a mother-daughter team of former U.S. workers. Georgia polls Ruby Freeman and Shaye Moss discussing what it is. it seemed to be pointed out as part of former President Donald Trump’s conspiracy theories that the election was stolen, and that poll workers like Moss and Freeman were involved in the plot.

In doing so, they highlighted a serious and continuing threat to American democracy.

In the weeks leading up to the 2020 election, the Trump campaign and its allies publicly accused the two women of committing electoral fraud in Fulton County (Atlanta headquarters). Rudy Giuliani, one of Trump’s lawyers, said at one point that the mother and daughter, who are black, were passing USB sticks full of manipulated votes as if they were “bottles of heroin or cocaine” (it was actually a ginger mint, according to Moss).

During Trump’s now infamous call with Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, in which Trump pressured Trump to “find” enough votes to alter the election result, he mentioned the two women 18 times separately. (Raffensperger also testified at Tuesday’s hearing.)

The result was a wave of harassment that ruined the lives of the two women. Moss testified that he received “many threats, wishing me death, telling me that, you know, I’ll be in jail with my mother and saying things like ‘be glad it’s 2020 and not 1920′” . hiding and said he gained 60 pounds of stress. Trump supporters attacked his grandmother’s house, entering and “exclaiming that they were coming to arrest a citizen.”

Freeman, on the other hand, used to proudly wear T-shirts with his nickname – “Lady Ruby” -. “Now,” he testified in a videotaped statement, “I won’t even run for my name anymore.” She continued:

There is no place where I feel safe. Nowhere. Do you know how it feels when the President of the United States appoints you? The president of the United States is supposed to represent all Americans. Don’t sign up for one. But she pointed to me, Lady Ruby, a small business, a mother, a proud American citizen, who stood up to help Fulton County hold a pandemic election.

This testimony revealed the actual damage caused to human lives by the lies unleashed by Trump and his allies. But he also pointed to something deeper: the way in which attacks on individual election workers are destroying the very foundations of our democracy.

Public officials across the country, from ordinary people like Moss and Freeman to officials like Raffensperger, come together to make sure our elections run smoothly and smoothly. By addressing them in such a personal way, Trump and his anti-democratic allies are raising the costs of this civic participation and opening the door for MAGA disciples to infiltrate our electoral infrastructure in 2022 and beyond.

Undermining democracy, one poll worker at a time

While Moss and Freeman were special targets of Trump and Giuliani, they were not the only election workers to experience vicious harassment in the last election cycle. A 2021 poll found that 17 percent of local U. See the article : The Texas GOP has adopted a resolution rejecting the 2020 election results.S. election officials experienced threats because of their jobs during the 2020 election cycle. David Becker, executive director of the Center for Election Innovation and Research, told me last year that this was far from normal before 2020.

“It’s not even accurate to say that [threatening election workers] was rare before 2020. It was so rare that it was virtually non-existent,” he said. “This is beyond anything we’ve ever seen.”

At times, these threats were the direct result of Trump selecting a poll worker, as was the case with Freeman, Moss, and other officials like Raffensperger.

Philadelphia City Commissioner Al Schmidt, a Republican in charge of election oversight, became a lightning rod when Trump tweeted that he was someone who “was being used a lot by the fake news media” as the cover of the electoral fraud. He received a wave of threats; an assistant commissioner, Seth Bluestein, was subjected to anti-Semitic abuse. Schmidt’s wife received e-mails with threats such as “ALBERT RINO SCHMIDT WILL BE FATALLY THROWN” and “TIP CAFALS”. “The family left home for security reasons after the election; Schmidt has announced that he will not run for re-election in 2023.

In other cases, presidential participation was not necessary to incite harassment. Trump’s conspiracy theories that the 2020 election was stolen and that local election officials were often part of the “robbery” had created a climate in which Trump supporters felt empowered to take things for granted. own hands.

In Vermont, not exactly an oscillating state that interested Trump, one of his supporters sent a series of threatening messages to election officials in late 2020, warning them, among other things, that “your days are numbered.” .

This harassment obviously did not allow Trump to cancel the 2020 election. But it has done immense psychological damage to election workers like Moss and Freeman, who do difficult jobs for little pay. A 2020 national survey of election officials conducted by the Reed College Early Voting Information Center found that about a quarter of respondents planned to retire before the 2024 presidential election. One of the main reasons mentioned was ” the political environment “, that is, that the politicization of their jobs and the consequent threats made them want to leave.

When dedicated election workers leave, it means that the person’s years of experience in specialized and technical areas disappear. An exit, or a handful, could be manageable. Mass resignations — and an environment that deters the civic mind from taking a step to fill vacancies — can be catastrophic for election management.

This is especially true given that Trump’s allies are working to insert their supporters into key electoral roles. A September 2021 ProPublica investigation documented the emergence of an “enclosure strategy,” beginning with a call to action on former Trump adviser Steve Bannon’s radio program, in which Republicans have started flooding local polling stations with volunteers who could shape the counting process in the next election cycle. They found that thousands of Republicans had signed up for these roles since the Bannon campaign began, with no similar increase on the Democratic side.

“Your best scenario [if election workers stop smoking en masse] is more trouble at polling stations and voting,” Becker told me. “The worst case scenario is not just if we lose it, but what happens when that experience is replaced by piracy … more people who believe their job is to give their choice to the candidate they want to see win.”

Electoral security analysts are already worried about the 2022 legislature, particularly whether the 2020 harassment and intimidation campaigns will be repeated. of Trump on a fatally compromised electoral system.

There is a real chance that Moss and Freeman will not be the last election workers to find their lives as part of Trump’s quest for power. This impending possibility and its appalling effects on civic-minded Americans could be debilitating to our democracy.

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