New bill aims to protect election workers

The bill would create new penalties for threatening poll workers

A new bill in Washington looks to add new protections to election workers in the wake of what happened back in 2020. On Friday (March 4), Metro Detroit City Clerks and the NAACP came together to discuss why they believe it's so necessary.

DETROIT – A new bill in Washington looks to add new protections to election workers in the wake of what happened back in 2020. On Friday (March 4), Metro Detroit City Clerks and the NAACP came together to discuss why they believe it’s so necessary.

The bill would create new penalties for threatening poll workers. The people we’re talking about here are our neighbors and our friends, ranging from senior citizens to students, and more often than not, they’re volunteers.

Now clerks are saying they need help making sure they can keep those same people safe so they can make sure our votes stay safe too.

“We will (expletive) take you out,” said a man on former Rochester Hills Clerk Tina Barton’s voicemail. “(Expletive) your family. (Expletive) your life. And you deserve the (expletive) throat to the knife.”

That is just a piece of the call left for Barton after the 2020 presidential election and the exact thing Congressman Andy Levin wants to make a federal crime.

“Rhetoric that aims to inspire violence at polling places represents an existential threat to democracy,” said Levin.

Levin has introduced a new bill in congress that would mean fines and prison sentences for people who threaten election workers, create more on the ground protections for those workers, and more penalties for people who purposefully damage election equipment.

Levin created the bill with hopes of preventing more dangerous scenes like the mob at the former TCF Center looking to intimidate vote counters on election night.

“It was just unimaginable conduct by people who were outraged by the fact that votes were being counted,” said Chui Karega, the General Counsel, Detroit branch NAACP.

Threats have gotten so bad that clerks have had to spend time doing active shooter training and safety drills instead of an already complicated and time-consuming election training.

“Election staff and precinct workers should not be concerned about their personal safety when trying to administer the democratic process,” said Madison Heights City Clerk Cheryl Rottmann.

“This bill is crucial to offering them the protection they deserve,” said Ferndale City Clerk Marne McGrath.

The new bill comes as clerks from across the state have asked lawmakers in Lansing to help, saying they are short-staffed, underfunded, and under enormous pressure.

They say they’re already having trouble recruiting volunteers, and if these threats go unpunished, it’s not hard to see that it could mean problems for people looking to make their voices heard come November.

Levin said the likelihood that the bill would pass is fluid, but that situation is frozen in reality. Levin did say, though, that it is never the wrong time to do the right thing.


About the Authors:

Grant comes to Local 4 from Oklahoma City. He joins the news team as co-anchor of Local 4 News Today weekend mornings and is a general assignment reporter.

Brandon Carr is a digital content producer for ClickOnDetroit and has been with WDIV Local 4 since November 2021. Brandon is the 2015 Solomon Kinloch Humanitarian award recipient for Community Service.