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New Hanover County election workers are training for intimidation and threats

Courtesy Tom Arthur

North Carolina election officials are preparing for intimidation and threats in the 2022 election season by taking de-escalation training and working with the Department of Homeland Security, said NC Board of Elections Executive Director Karen Brinson Bell.

Brinson Bell spoke during a webinar hosted Monday by Secure Democracy Foundation, and said there have been increased threats to election officials since 2020.

She said they hope to de-escalate any situations that arise at a polling or election site; but if that doesn’t work, officials will call law enforcement.

Part of that work with the Department of Homeland Security involves training on physical assessments called SAFEs, which look at options for mitigating threats in facilities.

She also discussed poll-watchers, or observers, who are allowed to watch the voting procedure — but these must be people named by political parties and submitted to the board beforehand for approval. And once they are within the polling place, they cannot approach voters or hinder the voting process.

Kathy Holland, former Alamance County elections director, said people should remember that poll workers are who you see in the grocery store — they’re part of your community. The election process is local and bipartisan by design, she said.

Brinson Bell also said there’s been increased interest in this election; the Board of Elections statewide has received and accepted more than 35,000 absentee ballots — four times more than the number they had at this time in the 2018 election season.

The panelists also discussed the importance of dispelling myths about the election process. Contrary to conspiracy theories about election fraud, no part of the vote-counting process involves the Internet, and there are no modems in the equipment, for example. And North Carolina’s election process is unique to our state; a problem or vulnerability in, say, Arizona, doesn’t necessarily mean a problem here.

Former Charlotte Mayor Jennifer Roberts said that human error can occur, but the checks and balances present in the system catch those errors.

According to Brinson Bell, one-stop early voting is the most popular voting method in North Carolina. That begins Thursday, October 20.

Grace is a multimedia journalist recently graduated from American University. She's attracted to issues of inequity and her reporting has spanned racial disparities in healthcare, immigration detention and college culture. In the past, she's investigated ICE detainee deaths at the Investigative Reporting Workshop, worked on an award-winning investigative podcast, and produced student-led video stories.