That stance has been reflected in new electoral laws and bills tabled by Republican-controlled lawmakers across the country. More than two dozen bills in nine states, either still making their way through legislation or signed into law, have sought to impose a slew of harsh new penalties, increased criminal classifications, and five-digit fines on state and local electoral officials, according to a review Electoral Laws Made by The New York Times Mistakes, Errors, Overruns, and Other Electoral Law Violations.
The violations that could result in harsher punishment range from what appears to be minor attention disruptions or innocent mistakes to more explicit willful acts of regulation. In Texas, any action that “does not make the observation adequately effective” for an election observer would incur new penalties. In Florida, failure to monitor a Dropbox by an election worker would result in heavy fines. Deliberately disobeying new laws, for example in states like Iowa and Texas that prohibit postal ballots from being sent to voters who have not requested them, would also result in tougher penalties.
“The standard assumption that county election officials are bad actors is problematic,” said Chris Davis, the county election administrator in Williamson County, Texas, north of Austin. “So many moving parts and things happen at a given polling station, and innocent mistakes can happen, even though they are rare.” And assigning criminal or civil liability to some of these things is problematic. It’s a big problem that we have. “
“In our experience, these pollsters never intend to count invalid votes or to have someone who is not eligible to vote or to prevent someone who is eligible to vote from voting,” said Davis, whose role is impartial. “We see this as a foundation, however, as some kind of rationale in some of the bills that are currently being drafted. And I don’t know where it’s coming from because it’s not based on reality.”
With criminal offenses, jail sentences and fines of up to $ 25,000 hanging over their heads, election officials and constituencies are increasingly concerned that the new penalties will not only limit the work of election administrators, but also have a deterrent effect on theirs Willingness to get the job done.