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‘Prepare for the worst’: Election officials increase security to protect workers from threats

Updated October 25, 2022 - 9:59 am

Outside the Clark County Election Department building in North Las Vegas, security cameras scope out the parking lot. Staff swipe their badges to get to certain areas of the cavernous warehouse. Observers wanting to see the election process in action will be escorted by staff as the officials count mail-in ballots.

Counties have increased security amid a reported rise in intimidation and threats against election workers across the country. In Clark County, Nevada’s most populous, Registrar of Voters Joe Gloria said he has not heard concerns from election workers about safety, but the county is prepared just in case.

“We’ve got several resources available that are ready to respond if we have any issues out at the polls, whether it’s observers, anybody who’s lingering outside that may be trying to intimidate, open-carry people who may think that they can sit out there and intimidate. But we won’t allow that to happen,” Gloria said.

Threats, resignations

Threats to poll workers have increased since the 2020 election, and jurisdictions across the country have reported a shortage of poll workers amid concerns about safety.

Washoe County Registrar of Voters Deanna Spikula resigned in June due to threats she received from election deniers, and last year the Brennan Center for Justice commissioned a survey that found one in three election officials feel unsafe because of their job.

A former poll worker in Georgia also testified before the Jan. 6 committee in June about death threats she received after former President Donald Trump singled her out in falsely asserting that the 2020 election was stolen.

With the changes to Nevada’s election laws that allowed mail-in ballots to be sent automatically to every voter, Clark County has not needed as many staff around the polling locations for security as more people are using the mail-in option, Gloria said.

By law, police are not allowed to linger at polling locations, as voters can feel intimidated, but police are prepared to come to a site for any issue, Gloria said.

“They know that we’ve done due diligence. If we give you a call, we need you to respond,” Gloria said.

Protecting workers

Gloria could not give specifics about security measures that are in place to prevent people from “looking for holes,” but he said there are many detailed measures in place.

“The protection of our workers is very serious for us. So we don’t release those plans,” he said. “And it’s the same thing with cybersecurity. We’ve got a very detailed cybersecurity plan. We’re very well taken care of, but we don’t share those with anyone.”

Washoe County, the second-largest in the state, is fully staffed for the election and has increased its physical security at the registrar’s office by adding badge-readers for access to certain areas and security cameras, said Bethany Drysdale, media and communications manager for Washoe County. The county will also have a security officer in the registrar’s office on Election Day.

“We have not heard concerns about safety that have prevented people from wanting to be poll workers,” Drysdale said. “We work very closely with law enforcement and we are confident we’ll have a safe and secure election.”

In Lyon County, which has a population of about 52,000, Clerk/Treasurer Nikki Bryan has not heard from any workers about concerns for safety and has not had to increase security.

“I’m vigilant, but I’m not overly concerned,” Bryan said.

Gloria said he prepares for something to go wrong.

“As an election official you don’t sleep much at night. There are 10,000 things that are out of my control on Election Day. We’ve hired thousands of workers. We have law enforcement involved, we’ve got other agencies involved, public works, IT, communications. There are many things that can go wrong, but what we do as an organization here, and what I’ve always passed on to my staff is that we prepare for the worst,” Gloria said.

Contact Jessica Hill at jehill@reviewjournal.com. Follow @jess_hillyeah on Twitter.

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