Simon, DFL seek election worker protections

DFL-backed legislation that Simon supports would make such behavior a gross misdemeanor subject to a $1,000 fine. Election administrators told reporters that the threats and intimidation is a new problem in the past two elections.

In recent months, election staffers have dealt with threatening phone calls left on their home voicemail and saw their personal information posted online. In one case, the sheriff had to be called because someone harassed an election employee at work, Simon said.

"No one is looking to touch First Amendment activity," Simon said. "But when you go beyond that and start really genuinely harassing people and interfering with an election process at the polling place or otherwise, that’s when we need to augment our laws to address that behavior."

Election officials said they didn't struggle to fill 30,000 positions required to run Minnesota's 2022 midterm election. But harassment could chill recruitment for those positions in the future, they've said.

Four other states -- California, Colorado, Maine, and Oregon -- have passed laws protecting election workers, a spokeswoman for Simon said.

Katie Smith, Minneapolis's elections director, said lead election officials across the country are planning to leave their jobs. One in four local election officials have faced threats, abuse, or harassment in the past two years, according to a survey conducted by The Democracy Fund and Reed College.

Democrats who control the state Legislature say they hope to get bipartisan buy-in for the election worker protections. But that provision is part of a broader package of voting rights changes that Republicans don't support.

Simon and DFL lawmakers are seeking automatic voter registration for anyone who has a driver's license. The change could lead 450,000 additional people to be registered to vote, Simon said. Another proposal would restore voting rights for felons upon leaving prison. Yet another would allow 16- and 17-year-olds to pre-register to vote.

Republicans on Friday criticized the package as a "hyper-partisan" DFL agenda.

Simon called the GOP criticism "disappointing," while pointing to some Republican states that already have similar laws on their books.