After years of harassment, election workers head into the primary more confident about their safety

The voter registration and elections hub in Fairburn. (Credit: Fulton County Government)

Key Points
  • Douglas County's election chief faced severe threats after the 2020 election.
  • Milton Kidd, director of elections, avoids disclosing his job due to ongoing harassment.
  • Over 90% of local election officials nationwide have enhanced security since the 2020 election.

Death threats and harassing phone calls and emails got so bad for Douglas County’s top election official that he stopped using the front entrance to the election office building.

“It all started in the aftermath of the 2020 [presidential] election and conspiracy theories around elections,” said Milton Kidd, director of elections and voter registration for Douglas, just west of Atlanta.

>> Related: Georgia primary election 2024: poll times, how to vote and who’s on the ballot

Although police were notified, Kidd said, he didn’t get protection. The harassment continued from people who believed false claims that the 2020 presidential election was stolen. To this day, Kidd still takes different routes home and he rarely tells anyone — including his doctors — what he does for a living. 

Election workers nationwide have been under siege for the last four years as people continue to believe the 2020 election was stolen, ultimately making election workers like Kidd scapegoats.

Milton Kidd, director of elections and voter registration for Douglas.

Heading into Tuesday’s Georgia primary, however, Kidd feels better about his safety and that of his nine-person staff. 

“The vitriol of this election seems to be less,” Kidd said. Still, there will be police at the county’s 25 precincts, he said.

State and local election officials have increased efforts to prepare election staff around the state to deal with safety risks that may occur at polls during this year’s elections. 

“We get together with local law enforcement, local elections officials, and we game out things like, What happens if a fistfight breaks out among the voters? What do you do with a bomb threat? Who do you contact if there’s a protest outside a precinct?” Hassinger told State Affairs.

The Secretary of State’s office has conducted about a half-dozen regional tabletop sessions across Georgia leading up to Tuesday’s election, said Mike Hassinger, the agency’s public information officer for elections. 

A new Brennan Center survey of local election officials nationwide found that 92% have taken steps since 2020 to protect voters, election workers and election infrastructure from threats and violence in 2024. 

The latest Brennan survey released this month found nearly 4 in 10 local election officials nationwide had experienced threats, harassment or abuse for doing their jobs. In April, the Department of Justice’s Election Threats Task Force said it was investigating dozens of threats against election workers and had already convicted 13 people.

Two Fulton County workers — Ruby Freeman and her daughter Shaye Moss — were unwittingly thrust into the national spotlight after President Donald Trump and former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s lawyer, accused them of ballot fraud. 

Public harassment got so bad that Freeman had to leave her home. The two women testified before Congress in June 2022 about how their lives were upended after Trump’s accusations about them. Giuliani was later ordered to pay the mother and daughter over $148 million for defamation. 

In June 2023, the Georgia Elections Board cleared Freeman and Moss of the election fraud claims, saying they were “false and unsubstantiated.”

“It’s disgusting the treatment of election officials,” said Kidd, who used to work in Fulton County and was on the panel that hired Moss. He later trained Moss to become an elections worker.

Brad Raffensperger, Georgia’s top election official, later received death threats and had to send his family members away for a while after he refused Trump’s request  to find 11,000 more votes to get the Georgia results overturned. State officials stood their ground against the president. 

In Georgia, the 2020 presidential ballots were recounted three times, and numerous 2020 lawsuits challenging the election were dismissed, yet the issue stubbornly persisted. 

New security measures

In addition to making sure election workers are safe, the state is using a new method called parallel monitoring to ensure the machines are secure. 

“We go into a county, pull out one of their machines and do a test on it. We do a logic and accuracy test to make sure that there’s no malware, that the software is up-to-date and secure and hasn’t been tampered with,” Hassinger said.

Parallel monitoring was used during advanced voting and will be done during Tuesday’s primary.

“From just an election security point of view, we’re doing something fairly unprecedented,” Hassinger said. 

Hassinger insists the new method is not in response to election integrity concerns that emerged after the 2020 and 2022 elections.

“There have been people who maintain that these election machines can be hacked. Some of them are election deniers, and some of them have been making these accusations in lawsuits that predate the 2016 and the 2020 elections,” he said.

The Georgia Election Integrity Act — which governs how, when and where Georgia voters can cast ballots — was a response to public concerns over election integrity during the 2020 presidential election. 

The extra measures have state elections officials feeling “very confident” going into Tuesday’s primary, Hassinger said.

Still, the safety of poll workers remains a top concern.

The Douglas County office has met with the local sheriff, city police and the school system police, Kidd said. The staff also has reviewed reporting requirements that show whom to contact in case of emergencies, he added.

Atlanta voter Katherine Hernacki has been a poll worker before and remembers the tense mood surrounding the Jan. 5, 2021, special runoff election when Raphael Warnock defeated incumbent Kelly Loeffler for Georgia’s U.S. Senate seat.

“I felt like the temperature was really rising and everyone was saying everything will be fine. And I did not think everything would be fine,” Hernacki said. The next day, the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol occurred in Washington, D.C.

Even so, the Atlanta attorney said, “I’m less concerned about security in terms of safety at the polls and more concerned about preservation of the right to actually cast a ballot.”

Poll worker turnover 

Between 2004 and 2022, poll worker turnover nationwide has grown from 28% to 39%, according to the Washington, D.C.-based think tank Bipartisan Policy Center, due to increased hostility and greater complexity of the job.

Low pay and uncertainty over the job’s potential danger has made getting and keeping poll workers in recent years difficult, Kidd said. He said his office has seen a 60% to 70% turnover rate since 2020.

Those kinds of numbers have political analyst Niles Francis wondering if there’ll be enough poll workers for the general election in November.

Starting pay for poll workers in Douglas is $15 an hour, Kidd said. In Georgia, poll workers earn, on average, $19 an hour, compared to $24 an hour nationally, according to the job-posting website ZipRecruiter.

“My concern is — and I’m sure this all will probably be verified once we get closer to the election — how many people actually want to [be election workers] this time?” said Francis, who writes a newsletter about Georgia politics called Peach State Politics. 

Kidd added, “Elections used to be fun. It’s not fun. It’s just a job now.”

Have questions, comments or tips? Contact Tammy Joyner on X @lvjoyner or at [email protected].

Related Topics: