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Election Workers Face Flood of Threats, but Charges Are Few

One week after the 2020 presidential election, Tina Barton, who as the clerk of Rochester Hills, Mich., oversaw voting there, sat down at her desk, coffee in hand, and listened to her voice mail messages.

The first one, she recalled, made every muscle in her body tense and left her hands shaking: A man who did not give his name made a series of profanity-laden threats and told her that people were coming for her and her family and that she deserved a knife to her throat.

Ms. Barton, whose town is part of Oakland County, which voted for President Biden in 2020, immediately shared the message with the county sheriff. Then she spent nearly three years wondering, wherever she went — grocery shopping, church, community events — whether the caller would make good on his threat and come to kill her. Only last summer, when federal authorities charged the caller, did she learn his identity and begin to feel some sense of relief.

Ms. Barton is one of thousands of election workers who have received threats since the 2020 election, a trend fueled by former President Donald J. Trump’s continued baseless assertions about election fraud and what experts say is a broader distrust of institutions and authority.

Among election workers, a once largely low-profile community, fear and anxiety are now common. A significant number have quit.

Seeing the problem as a threat to the smooth functioning of the democratic system, the Justice Department stepped up its efforts to find and charge those making threats, establishing a task force in the summer of 2021 to help local officials, offer assistance and prioritize prosecutions.

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