Harris, activists talk concerns of violence against election workers and Black voters

Voting rights activists expressed their concerns about election integrity and political violence in Black and brown communities during a recent roundtable with Vice President Kamala Harris.

Harris met with more than a dozen leaders in Atlanta on Tuesday to discuss issues related to voting rights, including laws passed by Republican lawmakers that advocates say restrict access to the ballot and fears concerning misinformation and AI technology.

One of the leading concerns raised during the roundtable discussion was threats of political violence and intimidation to election workers and volunteers mobilizing and educating Black and brown voters.

Vice President Harris, who spent time with Georgia election workers before meeting with voting rights leaders, said, “The stories that I’ve heard here and in other parts of our country are so troubling.”

Black Voters Matter co-founder LaTosha Brown, who participated in Tuesday’s roundtable, told theGrio that she and other organizers and leaders engaging with Black voters on the ground are “feeling the effects” of former President Donald Trump and elected officials continuing to push false claims of voter fraud following the 2020 presidential election.

“We’re in an increasingly politically intense environment,” said Brown. “White nationalists and people like Trump are pushing the dog whistles around race and fear.”

Co-founder of Black Voters Matter LaTosha Brown speaks as other voting rights activists listen during a “Rally for D.C. Statehood,” the last stop of BVM’s “Freedom Ride for Voting Rights” bus tour, at the National Mall June 26, 2021, in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

She added, “We’re seeing that increase all across the board. Not just for election workers but also for voters themselves.”

Brown’s colleague Cliff Albright, also a co-founder of Black Voters Matter, shared with the vice president and roundtable participants that, in at least one instance, a gun was pulled on election workers for simply providing information to voters.

Trump faces two criminal indictments related to his alleged actions to overturn the 2020 election results that declared his loss to Biden, including its lead-up to the deadly and violent Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol. 

As a leading Republican 2024 presidential candidate, Trump, presenting no evidence, has only increased his claims of voter fraud and being the victim of a corrupt government led by President Biden and his political enemies. Republican lawmakers in Congress and state legislatures continue to back Trump’s false claims, even taking legislative actions to support them.

“We’re in this new reshaping political landscape,” said Brown. “You’ve got a major political party that is actually supporting and lifting an agenda and a candidate that has been open about dismantling democracy.”

Harris ridiculed Republican lawmakers in Georgia and across the country for passing a wave of “anti-voter laws,” such as limiting drop boxes and making it illegal to provide food and water to people standing in line for hours.

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Brown said that even when the law is on the side of voting rights advocates and election volunteers, they are intimidated by polling officials from engaging with voters about the election process.

“We’ve gone to the polling sites where polling officials…will tell us you can’t go on a property, and we were like, no, that’s not true,” shared Brown. “We know the law.”

Brown called on the U.S. Department of Justice to use its federal authority to intervene when necessary to thwart state and local attempts to suppress the Black vote. She said there should be a particular focus on secretaries of state. 

“The secretary of state is not supposed to be a perpetrator of not supporting people to vote. They’re supposed to facilitate people participating in the process,” she said. “We need to make sure that…the federal government is actually holding those agencies accountable and reminding them what their job and responsibility is to the public.”

When asked on Wednesday about what the Biden-Harris administration is doing to ensure election integrity and the prevention of political violence, White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told theGrio that the administration is using “every tool at its disposal to protect the sacred right to vote and defend our democracy.”

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre speaks during a news briefing at the White House on Jan. 4, 2024, in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)

Jean-Pierre said that following the sharp increase of threats of violence to election workers in the aftermath of the 2020 election, the DOJ established the Election Threat Task Force to “investigate and prosecute those who target election workers.”

On the same day as Harris’ trip to Atlanta, the DOJ released a memo highlighting the work that its civil rights, criminal justice, and national security divisions are doing to enforce civil rights protections and criminal statutes prohibiting voter intimidation. 

“Any threats of violence towards election workers and other attempts to undermine our democratic process and make it harder to vote are unacceptable,” said Jean-Pierre.

Kendra Cotton, CEO of the New Georgia Project, who also participated in the roundtable with the vice president, said she is less concerned about election workers and voters being physically harmed at the polls due to the common occurrence of Georgians and other people in the South being proud gun owners in states where there are permitless concealed carry laws.

“​Not only are they packing now, you don’t have a permit to do so,” she told theGrio. She added, “It’s not just conservatives who are concealed carry down here in Georgia.”

Cotton also doubted that intimidators would actually act on any perceived threats, citing the prosecution of hundreds of people involved in the Jan. 6 insurrection, which she believes “sent a message” to would-be intimidators.

“They’re talking a big game, but I don’t think they’re gonna be froggy enough to jump anymore,” she said.

However, Cotton expressed that potential doxxing, the tactic of publicly posting personal information without one’s consent, of election workers or volunteers is a bullying tactic that is a real safety concern. 

While Harris and the participants discussed the threats of disinformation, particularly driven by bad actors in Russia and China, Cotton said Team Biden-Harris should be equally concerned about misinformation being spread by social media influencers who are saying the administration has done nothing for Black and brown communities. 

U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris and U.S. President Joe Biden applaud during an event marking the 30th Anniversary of the Family and Medical Leave Act, on Feb. 2, 2023, in the East Room of the White House in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Andrew CABALLERO-REYNOLDS/AFP)

“The current administration is not putting enough focus on that,” she argued. 

The Biden-Harris campaign and Democratic strategists have been wrestling with how to combat polling that shows Black and young voters are disillusioned by the administration and efforts to reelect the president and vice president.

Cotton said the administration needs to “do a better job of storytelling” about what they’ve done for Black and brown communities. She also believes that the average voter struggles to understand “federalism” and the political process.

“We have got to do a better job of explaining the different levels of government and who is responsible for what,” said Cotton, whose organization is focused on educating constituents. 

The voting rights leaders believe Vice President Harris is an effective proxy for the administration when deployed to engage and mobilize Black voters. 

“They see her as an individual that they can speak to,” said Cotton. However, she warned that the campaign could find trouble with younger Black and brown voters who are not happy with  “the way the administration is moving politically” as it relates to the Israel-Hamas war that has killed more than 20,000 Palestinians. 

Brown, of Black Voters Matter, said that while Harris has made several trips to Georgia as vice president, Tuesday’s visit was significant because it focused exclusively on voting rights, a key policy issue of the Biden-Harris 2020 campaign that did not come to fruition in Washington due to a lack of bipartisan cooperation from Republicans, whose votes Democrats needed to pass the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act. 

“We have a champion within the White House around voting rights and the work that we do,” Brown said of Harris. “It’s really important to send a message that voting rights is a key focus, and I think she has done that.”

Gerren Keith Gaynor

Gerren Keith Gaynor is a White House Correspondent and the Managing Editor of Politics at theGrio. He is based in Washington, D.C.

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Voting rights activists met with Vice President Kamala Harris to express concerns about election integrity and political violence in Black and brown communities. The roundtable discussion in Atlanta focused on laws passed by Republican lawmakers that limit access to the ballot and the spread of misinformation. Activists raised concerns about threats of political violence toward election workers and volunteers mobilizing black and brown voters. They also discussed the impact of false claims of voter fraud by former President Trump and other elected officials, as well as the use of intimidation and violence at polling sites. Activists called on the U.S. Department of Justice to intervene and ensure that federal laws protecting voting rights are upheld. The White House Press Secretary stated that the administration is using every tool at its disposal to protect the right to vote and prevent political violence. Concerns were also raised about disinformation being spread by social media influencers and the need for the Biden-Harris administration to address disillusionment among Black and young voters. Despite these challenges, activists believe that Vice President Harris is an effective advocate for the administration’s focus on voting rights.

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