Arrow-right Camera
The Spokesman-Review Newspaper

The Spokesman-Review Newspaper The Spokesman-Review

Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
Clear Day 42° Clear
News >  Pacific NW

Senate panel OKs tougher penalties for threatening elections workers

UPDATED: Thu., Feb. 11, 2021

The Legislature is considering a bill to make it a felony to harass an elections worker. Here, election workers Linda Prussack, left, and Susan Chaney fill out a duplicate ballot and double check that it is correct on Nov. 14, 2019, at the Spokane County Elections office.  (COLIN MULVANY)
The Legislature is considering a bill to make it a felony to harass an elections worker. Here, election workers Linda Prussack, left, and Susan Chaney fill out a duplicate ballot and double check that it is correct on Nov. 14, 2019, at the Spokane County Elections office. (COLIN MULVANY)

OLYMPIA – Harassing an elections worker in Washington could result in a five-year prison sentence and a $10,000 fine, under a bill sent to the full state Senate Thursday.

The proposal was prompted by reports of threats and harassment around the country in the wake of last November’s presidential election, Sen. David Frockt, the bill’s sponsor, told the Senate Law and Justice Committee recently.

Elections officials at all levels, even those who merely counted or sorted ballots, he added.

“It’s just not acceptable in a democratic society,” said Frockt, a Seattle Democrat. We don’t have to agree on certain things in politics to agree (threatening elections workers) is unacceptable. We need to make it known now so that in the future, we don’t see it happening again.”

Secretary of State Kim Wyman, Washington’s top elections officer, said harassment puts “an additional burden on elections workers, some of whom are part-time employees or volunteers.

“They didn’t sign up for threats and harassment merely for doing their job and upholding the Constitution,” Wyman said.

One of the state’s top elections workers had personal information displayed on a website called Enemies of the People, which investigators have since traced to an Iranian source.

Spokane Valley Sen. Mike Padden, the committee’s ranking Republican, said there are cases where elections officials have made “grievous errors” and the public has to have confidence in the system.

“But no way should there be any harassment,” he said.

Sen. Patty Kuderer, D-Bellevue, said that while there have been allegations of voter fraud in past elections, 2020 was the first time she’d heard of election workers being threatened.

Wyman said there were no similar actions in 2016 and threats against elections workers reached “a serious level I’ve never seen in 28 years of doing this work.”

Before sending Frockt’s bill to the full Senate on a unanimous vote, the committee approved a change suggested by Padden that would make conviction for harassing an elections worker a Class C felony, punishable by up to five years in prison and a $10,000 fine. That’s more than a conviction on a standard harassment charge, which can be up to a year in jail and a $5,000 fine, but less than Frockt’s original proposal for a Class B felony that could result in a 10-year sentence and a $20,000 fine.

The Spokesman-Review Newspaper

Local journalism is essential.

Give directly to The Spokesman-Review's Northwest Passages community forums series -- which helps to offset the costs of several reporter and editor positions at the newspaper -- by using the easy options below. Gifts processed in this system are not tax deductible, but are predominately used to help meet the local financial requirements needed to receive national matching-grant funds.

Active Person

Subscribe to the Coronavirus newsletter

Get the day’s latest Coronavirus news delivered to your inbox by subscribing to our newsletter.