Every blow an attacker struck against the husband of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi at the couple’s San Francisco home last week was a blow aimed squarely at democracy in the United States, the most important democracy in the world.

And every threat against an election worker or act of intimidation against a voter, such as the presence of armed private “observers” near ballot drop boxes in Arizona, is a blow against the American tradition of civic involvement, the sacred notion of a secret ballot and the public trust that is needed in order for the experiment of self-government to continue.

Democracy cannot long thrive in a nation where political participation comes with threats of violence against one’s person and family. Every American, regardless of political persuasion, should be outraged by recent events aimed at sowing distrust in elections. 

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In many states, including Utah, voting has been underway for several days now, with many people casting paper ballots by mail. Elsewhere, most ballots will be cast on Nov. 8, Election Day. But in every county or equivalent jurisdiction, those ballots will need to be counted, and that is perhaps the most important manifestation of participatory democracy in the republic.

Election workers need to take seriously the need for a keen eye and appreciation for fair and honest voting. They cannot let partisanship outweigh fairness. Ideally, the sheer number of these workers makes the system self-regulating, with poll workers and election counters keeping watch against irregularities.

As the U.S. Elections Assistance Commission notes on its website, “Election workers are essential to ensuring that elections are a success,” adding, “With each election, millions of Americans dedicate themselves to sustaining the backbone of democracy.”

Elected clerks tend to be tasked with the job of conducting these efforts, under the direction of either a state lieutenant governor or secretary of state, and they all ultimately are accountable to voters.

The irony is that the 2020 election was deemed by the Election Infrastructure Government Coordinating Council Executive Committee to be “the most secure in American history.” And yet, false accusations of election fraud have inflamed a portion of the population and turned public service into hazardous duty. 

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Earlier this year, the Brennan Center, a nonpartisan law and policy institute, surveyed election officials and found that 30% said they “knew of one or more election workers who have left at least in part because of fear for their safety, increased threats, or intimidation.”

In addition, 60% said they worried these threats will hurt efforts to recruit other election workers to take their place. 

Why is this important? “Election officials and staff have a heavy workload with a slew of tasks that must be regularly undertaken and expertise that must be developed — combined with limited staff and resources. Recruiting and retention challenges would further burden these offices,” the center said.

A video on the center’s website shows officials discussing explicit death threats received against themselves and their families. Elsewhere, candidates and officeholders report similar experiences, and these are not confined to any one political party. Earlier this year, charges were filed against a man who allegedly attempted to assassinate conservative Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh.

People with a desire for public service, whether as a school board member or a member of Congress, should not have to risk the safety of themselves and their families to serve. 

Earlier this week, federal prosecutors alleged Pelosi’s reported attacker, David DePape, wanted to find the House speaker and “break her knee caps.” His aim, they said, was to demonstrate “there were consequences to actions.”

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Indeed, there are. The natural consequences for perpetrating violence against public servants is a ripple that could dissuade many capable people from also serving, while cheapening what it means to be an American. The criminal consequences for such a thing must be swift and meaningful. 

Too much is at stake. Americans cannot let lies, violence and threats destroy what so many have given so much to build.