Two weeks ago, Secretary of State Shenna Bellows acted with care, fairness and diligence when she performed her constitutional duty to assess citizen-initiated challenges to the eligibility of Donald Trump for president. Ultimately, Secretary Bellows found Donald Trump unqualified to appear on Maine’s primary ballot in March. We all likely know the darkness that followed.

The abuse and personal attacks suffered by a dedicated public servant for doing the critically important (and under-appreciated) work our democracy requires are part of a broader pattern that has consumed our nation. These tactics impact everyone, from municipal clerks to the civically minded individuals who assist you at the polls on an election day. Whether or not you agree with Secretary Bellows’ decision, we all must agree that cynical rhetoric, hostility and intimidation are unacceptable and have no place in our society.

The pattern is clear. Though Americans tend to think of their democratic institutions as resilient and unwavering, the past several years have exposed our vulnerability. Just eight months ago, a non-partisan Brennan Center survey of the nation’s election officials found 45% of respondents saying that they feared for the safety of their colleagues. In the aftermath of the 2020 election and ensuing post-election violence, local election officials are finding it harder to sustain their commitment to the work.

Amidst a greater prevalence of threat, intimidation, and hostility, election officials are leaving their jobs at record rates. A recent investigation of five key battleground states estimates that more than 30% of election officials left their positions between 2020 and 2022, much higher than the typical rate of turnover.

The threats and attacks leveled against Secretary Bellows are part of a similar attempt to overturn the core institutions of our democracy. Dissatisfied with her decision and disliking her personally, those who have engaged in personal attack or threatened violence have abandoned basic democratic principles and the rule of law. Those who seek to remove or expel Secretary Bellows from office are weaponizing our institutions of government, employing measures designed to root out criminality or egregious abuses of the public trust. To suggest that either applies in this case is disingenuous and shameful. Our institutions provide a procedure to appeal her determination and that process is already underway.

Continued attacks on the people who enable our democracy to function threaten the great American democratic experiment. In any given presidential election year, our country must assemble more than 1.4 million individuals to staff our elections (equivalent in size to the U.S. standing army across all branches of the military).

As many municipal clerks or state election officials will tell you, this recruitment effort has become significantly more difficult since the tumultuous election of 2020 and its violent aftermath. Maine has even had to pass legislation to track threats to election workers and increase the penalties for such anti-democratic actions.

Democracy requires us to be able to disagree about important issues, but respect the process by which we arrive at important decisions. It requires us to have faith that our election officials and public servants operate with a dedicated sense of their constitutional obligations and a genuine commitment to serving the public good. Many of the responses we have seen in response to Secretary Bellows’ decision, ranging from violent threats to attempts to remove her from office, fail to demonstrate these core values.

In 2024, our political institutions will once again be tested. We will all encounter decisions and electoral outcomes that we find frustrating and disappointing. However, the continued viability of democracy rests upon our commitment to democratic principles and respect for the democratic process and rule of law. Showing appreciation for our dedicated public servants, even when we disagree with them, is part of that commitment.

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