Federal Funding Sought to Protect Threatened Election Officials

  • Election commission asking GAO for legal advice on issue
  • Money is allocated to states for election administration

Federal election officials are seeking expedited legal guidance from the Government Accountability Office on whether funds allocated to states for election administration can be used to pay for personal security purposes.

That’s one of the steps to improve the safety of state and local election officials that the U.S. Election Assistance Commission outlined in a letter responding to an inquiry last month from Senate Rules and Administration Committee Chairwoman Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and ranking member Roy Blunt(R-Mo.). The senators expressed concern for officials who’ve faced increased threats of violence since the 2020 elections.

The commission is asking whether funds directed to states through the 2002 Help America Vote Act that are already being used to pay for securing election offices can also be used for physical personal protection.

“HAVA election security grants were made available to states to improve the administration of elections for Federal office, and physical security falls under that umbrella,” the four commissioners said in a Dec. 3 letter obtained by Bloomberg Government.

“We await a response from the GAO but stand ready to prepare guidance as soon as an opinion is issued,” they added. The commission hopes to allow states to use money leftover from funds Congress appropriated for the 2020 and 2018 elections.

Photographer: Aboubacar Kante/Bloomberg
Federal officials are seeking guidance on allowing funds allocated for election administration to be used to pay for personal physical safety.

The commission said other measures taken include launching a website this month to serve as a central hub for officials on where to report threats and personal safety tips; a webinar and video series featuring interviews with Justice Department and FBI officials on immediate concerns and best practices; and enhanced coordination efforts with federal law enforcement and the commission’s new Local Leadership Council.

It’s hosting a roundtable discussion on election official security Wednesday.

Confronting Threats

Threats to election officials have grown since former President Donald Trump launched baseless complaints of widespread fraud and corruption. Klobuchar and Blunt have pushed for action on this issue, even as Republicans and Democrats generally remain stalemated on other election issues.

The two senators last month wrote to the EAC calling for action after holding a Rules Committee hearing in which they heard directly from state and local officials. One witness, Al Schmidt, a Republican election official from Philadelphia, said that, after Trump named him in a post-election tweet, Schmidt and his wife received messages that named their children and threatened to put their “heads on spikes.”

Schmidt announced last week he’s stepping down from his post in January to head a watchdog group. Trump responded with a press release calling him a RINO (Republican in Name Only). Trump said Schmidt “was a disaster on the massive election fraud and irregularities which took place in Philadelphia, one of the most corrupt election places in the United States.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Kenneth P. Doyle in Washington at kdoyle@bgov.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Kyle Trygstad at ktrygstad@bloombergindustry.com; Bennett Roth at broth@bgov.com