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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Bill to increase penalty for harassing election officials passes Senate

OLYMPIA – Harassing an election official may soon be punishable by up to five years in prison or a $10,000 fine.

The state Senate on Wednesday unanimously passed a bill that would make harassing an election official employed by the Secretary of State or a county auditor’s office a class C felony.

“The purpose of this legislation is to address what I believe is a grievous threat to our democratic system,” bill sponsor David Frockt, D-Seattle, said.

The bill comes after the 2020 election cycle when elections workers in Washington and the country faced threats.

Frockt said more has come to light in the past year on the nature of the threats elections workers received in 2020. He cited a Reuters report that said there were at least 102 documented threats of death or violence recorded by more than 40 election workers in battleground states in 2020. In Washington, one of the top elections officials had personal information posted on a site called Enemies of the People.

Harassment is normally a gross misdemeanor, a lesser penalty than a felony, but this bill would up the punishment for those who specifically harass an election worker who is performing their official duties at the time the threat is made or those who harass an election worker because of an action the election worker took during the performance of their duties.

It includes elections staff members, regardless of if they are employed in a temporary or part-time basis, according to the bill.

“All of us know this is wrong,” Frockt said. “We will not tolerate this. We will not undermine our elections process.”

The bill still needs to pass the House before going into effect.

As threats against elections workers continue and misinformation surrounding the 2020 election still spreads, Gov. Jay Inslee offered his support for a bill that would make it a crime for elected officials or candidates to knowingly lie about elections results. Doing so would be punishable by up to one year in jail or $5,000.

The bill was officially introduced to the Legislature on Tuesday.

During an Associated Press legislative preview last week, he expressed frustration for those who continue to lie about the electoral process and the 2020 results. Spreading misinformation about election results can result in violence like what was seen during the Jan. 6 riots last year, Inslee said.

Laurel Demkovich's reporting for The Spokesman-Review is funded in part by Report for America and by members of the Spokane community. This story can be republished by other organizations for free under a Creative Commons license. For more information on this, please contact our newspaper’s managing editor.