SALEM, Ore. — A bill aimed at shielding Oregon's election workers from intimidation and threats has now passed both chambers of the legislature, heading to Governor Kate Brown's desk for a signature.
House Bill 4144 allows election workers to keep their home addresses from public disclosure, and makes the crime of harassment against an election worker punishable by a maximum 364 days in prison and a $6,250 fine — upgrading it from a Class B misdemeanor to a Class A misdemeanor.
The 2020 election became a particular hotbed of hostility and harassment, much of it directed at the workers and elected officials who oversee vote-counting throughout the country. While Oregon was far from the worst example, there were enough incidents that some lawmakers and county clerks felt that something had to be done.
Jackson County Clerk Chris Walker, a nonpartisan elected official, championed HB 4144 after her office became the target of threats. Shortly after the 2020 election, someone painted a message in a nearby parking lot: "vote don't work" and "next time bullets."
Oregon Secretary of State Shemia Fagan, who oversees the Oregon Elections Division, also became a major advocate for the bill.
"False information threatens Oregonians’ trust in our elections and has created an environment that poses real-world risks to elections workers in Oregon," said Fagan in a Thursday statement. "In the months leading up to and since the 2020 election, election workers across the country have faced verbal abuse, harassment and violent threats on their lives."
Fagan cited a special report by Reuters, which documented hundreds of threats and hostile messages directed at U.S. elections workers. A January survey of front-line staff in Fagan's own Elections Division found that 10 of the 13 workers responding had experienced harassment or threats while doing their jobs, she said, and election officials in at least two Oregon counties have received death threats.
"The Election Worker Safety Bill is about protecting the people who protect our democracy," Fagan continued. "Our elections are run by members of the community in all 36 counties across Oregon, hardworking elections professionals who are doing incredibly important work in a very challenging time."
HB 4144 passed the Oregon Senate on Thursday with unanimous bipartisan support. Several conservative lawmakers were either marked excused or absent for the vote. The bill passed the House in February.