Research: Threats, harassment of local officials up 55% since 2022

Jun 20, 2024, 5:00 AM | Updated: 1:21 pm

An official ballot drop box is pictured outside of the Salt Lake County Government Center on March ...

An official ballot drop box is pictured outside of the Salt Lake County Government Center in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, March 5, 2024. As more elected officials on a local level report threats, county clerks say they bear the brunt. (Kristin Murphy/Deseret News)

(Kristin Murphy/Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY — Research out of Princeton University shows harassment and threats against local elected officials, including school board members, mayors, council members, county clerks, and more, rose 55% in the last two years. 

That sounded familiar to Josh Daniels, who served as Utah County Clerk/Auditor from 2021 to 2023. 

“Having been one of those clerks that felt the level of scrutiny, often irrational scrutiny, it was like, ‘Why am I doing this?'” he told the KSL and Deseret News editorial board this week. 

Threats, harassment up against local officials

Princeton University’s Bridging Divides Initiative conducted the research with CivicPulse. They surveyed local elected officials nationwide about their experiences with threats starting in 2022. So far this year, those local officials reported a 55% increase in harassment and threats against them since the researchers first started looking at the issue. 

According to a news release from the initiative, minorities and women were more likely to face threats and harassment. But both Democrats and Republicans experienced hostility at roughly the same rates. 

Hostility comes with consequences, the researchers found. 

“After controlling for political party, gender, and age, experiences of at least one type of hostility while working as an elected official are linked to a statistically significant decrease in willingness to: run for a higher office, work on controversial topics, attend events in public spaces, go out in public when not working, and post on social media,” the release stated. 

Researchers plan to continue surveying local elected leaders each quarter. 

Helping future local officials navigate threats

A year after leaving office, Daniels now works with a non-profit called Trust Utah Elections. The organization’s primary goal, he says, is to bolster confidence in the electoral process. But we asked him about high turnover rates among elections officers, such as county clerks in Utah. 

“That is one of our hopes, is that we can have the backs of good election administrators,” Daniels said, “so that they can feel like they have people in the community that see the good work that they’re doing, and that promote and defend them and their reputation in the work that they’re doing.” 

There are more than just clerks facing threats. School board officials say harassment, insults and threats are part of the job, according to the research. 

“Compared to local elected officials, school board officials reported similar trends in their experiences of hostility,” researchers found. “Over the last quarter, more than one in three were insulted, more than one in six were harassed, and more than one in 12 were threatened.” 

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Research: Threats, harassment of local officials up 55% since 2022