Democracy doesn’t work unless citizens make it work. This not only means showing up to vote but also helping operate and administer the key institutions in a democratic society — such as schools, polling places, and local health agencies.
Yet over the course of the past year and a half, the Americans who do this critical work — mostly anonymous individuals motivated by a sense of civic duty — have been subject to a wave of violent threats. Consider the following examples:
- In Vermont, a man menaced a group of election officials, warning them that “your days are fucking numbered.”
- In Missouri, a public health official was “physically assaulted, called racist slurs, and surrounded by an angry mob.”
- In Oregon, a school board member was told that a neighbor was out looking for him — and threatening to kill him.
These are not one-off incidents. Surveys have found that 17 percent of America’s local election officials and nearly 12 percent of its public health workforce have been threatened due to their jobs during the 2020 election cycle and Covid-19 pandemic. While none of the threats against public servants appear to have led to deadly violence yet, the volume has gotten severe enough that the Justice Department created two separate initiatives to help combat threats against election administrators and education workers (board members, teachers, administrators, and other school staff).