OLYMPIA — Harassing an elections worker in Washington could result in a five-year prison sentence and a $10,000 fine, under a bill sent to the full state Senate Thursday.
The proposal was prompted by reports of threats and harassment around the country in the wake of last November's presidential election, Sen. David Frockt, the bill's sponsor, told the Senate Law and Justice Committee recently.
Elections officials at all levels, even those who merely counted or sorted ballots, he added.
"It's just not acceptable in a democratic society," said Frockt, a Seattle Democrat. We don't have to agree on certain things in politics to agree (threatening elections workers) is unacceptable. We need to make it known now so that in the future, we don't see it happening again."
Secretary of State Kim Wyman, Washington's top elections officer, said harassment puts "an additional burden on elections workers, some of whom are part-time employees or volunteers.
"They didn't sign up for threats and harassment merely for doing their job and upholding the Constitution," Wyman said.
One of the state's top elections workers had personal information displayed on a website called Enemies of the People, which investigators have since traced to an Iranian source.
Spokane Valley Sen. Mike Padden, the committee's ranking Republican, said there are cases where elections officials have made "grievous errors" and the public has to have confidence in the system.
"But no way should there be any harassment," he said.
Sen. Patty Kuderer, D-Bellevue, said that while there have been allegations of voter fraud in past elections, 2020 was the first time she'd heard of election workers being threatened.
Wyman said there were no similar actions in 2016 and threats against elections workers reached "a serious level I've never seen in 28 years of doing this work."
Before sending Frockt's bill to the full Senate on a unanimous vote, the committee approved a change suggested by Padden that would make conviction for harassing an elections worker a Class C felony, punishable by up to five years in prison and a $10,000 fine. That's more than a conviction on a standard harassment charge, which can be up to a year in jail and a $5,000 fine, but less than Frockt's original proposal for a Class B felony that could result in a 10-year sentence and a $20,000 fine.