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    Before Midterms, Election Officials Increase Security Over Threats

    In Wisconsin, one of the nation’s key swing states, cameras and plexiglass now fortify the reception area of a county election office in Madison, the capital, after a man wearing camouflage and a mask tried to open locked doors during an election in April.In another bellwether area, Maricopa County, Ariz., where beleaguered election workers had to be escorted through a scrum of election deniers to reach their cars in 2020, a security fence was added to protect the perimeter of a vote tabulation center.And in Colorado, the state’s top election official, Jena Griswold, the secretary of state and a Democrat, resorted to paying for private security out of her budget after a stream of threats.As the nation hurtles closer to the midterm elections, those who will oversee them are taking a range of steps to beef up security for themselves, their employees, polling places and even drop boxes, tapping state and federal funding for a new set of defenses. The heightened vigilance comes as violent rhetoric from the right intensifies and as efforts to intimidate election officials by those who refuse to accept the results of the 2020 election become commonplace.Discussing security in a recent interview with The Times, Ms. Griswold, 37, said that threats of violence had kept her and her aides up late at night as they combed through comments on social media.At a right-wing group’s gathering in Colorado earlier this year, she said, a prominent election denier with militia ties suggested that she should be killed. That was when she concluded that her part-time security detail provided by the Colorado State Patrol wasn’t enough.“They called for me to be hung,” said Ms. Griswold, who is running for re-election. “It’s a long weekend. I’m home alone, and I only get seven hours of State Patrol coverage.”Even in places where there was never a shadow of a doubt about the political leanings of the electorate, election officials have found themselves under threat. In a Texas county that President Donald J. Trump won by 59 percentage points in 2020, all three election officials recently resigned, with at least one citing repeated death threats and stalking.One in five local election officials who responded to a survey earlier this year by the Brennan Center for Justice said that they were “very” or “somewhat unlikely” to continue serving through 2024. The collective angst is a recurring theme at workshops and conferences attended by election officials, who say it is not unusual for them exchange anecdotes about threatening messages or harassment at the grocery store. The discussions have turned at times to testing drop boxes — a focus of right-wing attacks on mail-in voting — to see if they can withstand being set on fire.The State of the 2022 Midterm ElectionsWith the primaries winding down, both parties are starting to shift their focus to the general election on Nov. 8.Battleground Pennsylvania: Few states feature as many high-stakes, competitive races as Pennsylvania, which has emerged as the nation’s center of political gravity.The Dobbs Decision’s Effect: Since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, the number of women signing up to vote has surged in some states and the once-clear signs of a Republican advantage are hard to see.How a G.O.P. Haul Vanished: Last year, the campaign arm of Senate Republicans was smashing fund-raising records. Now, most of the money is gone.Digital Pivot: At least 10 G.O.P. candidates in competitive races have updated their websites to minimize their ties to former President Donald J. Trump or to adjust their stances on abortion.Benjamin Hovland, a member of the U.S. Election Assistance Commission, described the intimidation campaign as pervasive.“This isn’t a red-state issue or a blue-state issue,” Mr. Hovland said in a recent interview. “This is a national issue, where the professional public servants that run our elections have been subjected to an unprecedented level of threats, harassment and intimidating behavior.”In guidance issued in June, the Election Assistance Commission allowed for federal election grants to be used for physical security services and to monitor threats on social media.A poll worker sorting absentee ballots in Madison, Wis., in August. Officials recently budgeted $95,000 to start designing a more secure election center in the county.Jamie Kelter Davis for The New York TimesIn Wisconsin’s Dane County, which includes Madison, partisan poll watchers and a brigade of lawyers with the Trump campaign descended in 2020 to dispute the election results. County officials recently budgeted $95,000 to start designing a new and more secure election center.The move came after the U.S. Department of Homeland Security conducted a risk assessment in April on the current election offices for the county and city, which are housed in the same building.“It’s kind of a sieve,” Scott McDonell, a Democrat and the county’s clerk for the past decade, said in an interview. More

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    Fringe Scheme to Reverse 2020 Election Splits Wisconsin G.O.P.

    False claims that Donald J. Trump can be reinstalled in the White House are picking up steam — and spiraling further from reality as they go.MADISON, Wis. — First, Wisconsin Republicans ordered an audit of the 2020 election. Then they passed a raft of new restrictions on voting. And in June, they authorized the nation’s only special counsel investigation into 2020.Now, more than 15 months after former President Donald J. Trump lost the state by 20,682 votes, an increasingly vocal segment of the Republican Party is getting behind a new scheme: decertifying the results of the 2020 presidential election in hopes of reinstalling Mr. Trump in the White House.Wisconsin is closer to the next federal election than the last, but the Republican effort to overturn the election results here is picking up steam rather than fading away — and spiraling further from reality as it goes. The latest turn, which has been fueled by Mr. Trump, bogus legal theories and a new candidate for governor, is creating chaos in the Republican Party and threatening to undermine its push to win the contests this year for governor and the Senate.The situation in Wisconsin may be the most striking example of the struggle by Republican leaders to hold together their party when many of its most animated voters simply will not accept the reality of Mr. Trump’s loss.In Wisconsin, Robin Vos, the Assembly speaker who has allowed vague theories about fraud to spread unchecked, is now struggling to rein them in. Even Mr. Vos’s careful attempts have turned election deniers sharply against him.“This is a real issue,” said Timothy Ramthun, the Republican state representative who has turned his push to decertify the election into a nascent campaign for governor. Mr. Ramthun has asserted that if the Wisconsin Legislature decertifies the results and rescinds the state’s 10 electoral votes — an action with no basis in state or federal law — it could set off a movement that would oust President Biden from office.“We don’t wear tinfoil hats,” he said. “We’re not fringe.”Although support for the decertification campaign is difficult to measure, it wouldn’t take much to make an impact in a state where elections are regularly decided by narrow margins. Mr. Ramthun is drawing crowds, and his campaign has already revived Republicans’ divisive debate over false claims of fraud in 2020. Nearly two-thirds of Wisconsin Republicans were not confident in the state’s 2020 presidential election results, according to an October poll from the Marquette University Law School in Milwaukee.“This is just not what the Republican Party needs right now,” said Rob Swearingen, a Republican state representative from the conservative Northwoods. “We shouldn’t be fighting among ourselves about what happened, you know, a year and a half ago.”Wisconsin has the nation’s most active decertification effort. In Arizona, a Republican state legislator running for secretary of state along with candidates for Congress have called for recalling the state’s electoral votes. In September, Mr. Trump wrote a letter to Georgia officials asking them to decertify Mr. Biden’s victory there, but no organized effort materialized.In Wisconsin, the decertification push has Republican politics on its head. After more than a decade of Republican leaders marching in lock-step with their base, the party is hobbled by infighting and it’s Democrats who are aligned behind Gov. Tony Evers, who is seeking a second term in November.“Republicans now are arguing over whether we want democracy or not,” Mr. Evers said in an interview on Friday.Mr. Ramthun, a 64-year-old lawmaker who lives in a village of 2,000 people an hour northwest of Milwaukee, has ridden his decertification push to become a sudden folk hero to the party’s Trump wing. Stephen K. Bannon, Mr. Trump’s former adviser, has hosted Mr. Ramthun on his podcast. At party events, he shows off a 72-page presentation in which he claims, falsely, that legislators have the power to declare Wisconsin’s election results invalid and recall the state’s electoral votes.Mr. Ramthun has received bigger applause at local Republican gatherings than the leading candidates for governor, and last weekend he joined the race himself, announcing his candidacy at a campaign kickoff where he was introduced by Mike Lindell, the MyPillow chief executive who has financed numerous efforts to undermine and overturn the 2020 election.Mr. Trump offered public words of encouragement.“Who in Wisconsin is leading the charge to decertify this fraudulent election?” the former president said in a statement.It did not take long before the state’s top Republicans were responding to Mr. Ramthun’s election conspiracies. Within days, both of his Republican rivals for governor released new plans to strengthen partisan control of Wisconsin’s elections.During a radio appearance on Thursday, former Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch, the party establishment’s preferred candidate, refused to admit that Mr. Biden won the 2020 election — something she had already conceded last September. Ms. Kleefisch declined to be interviewed.Kevin Nicholson, a former Marine with backing from the right-wing billionaire Richard Uihlein, declined in an interview to say whether the election was legitimate, but he said there was “no legal path” to decertifying the results.Mr. Vos spent nearly an hour Friday on a Milwaukee conservative talk radio show defending his opposition to decertification from skeptical callers.“It is impossible — it cannot happen,” he said. “I don’t know how many times I can say that.”A Tuesday rally at the Wisconsin State Capitol in Madison drew about 250 people who called for decertifying the 2020 presidential election. Taylor Glascock for The New York TimesYet, Mr. Ramthun claims to have the grass-roots energy on his side. On Tuesday, he drew a crowd of about 250 people for a two-hour rally in the rotunda of the Wisconsin State Capitol.Terry Brand, the Republican Party chairman in rural Langlade County, chartered a bus for two dozen people for the three-hour ride. Mr. Brand in January oversaw the first county G.O.P. condemnation of Mr. Vos, calling for the leader’s resignation for blocking the decertification effort. At the rally, Mr. Brand stood holding a sign that said “Toss Vos.”“People are foaming at the mouth over this issue,” he said, listening intently as speakers offered both conspiracy theories and assurances to members of the crowd that they were of sound mind.“You’re not crazy,” Janel Brandtjen, the chairwoman of the Assembly’s elections committee, told the crowd.One speaker tied Mr. Vos, through a college roommate and former House Speaker Paul Ryan, to the false claims circulating in right-wing media that Hillary Clinton’s campaign spied on Mr. Trump. Another was introduced under a pseudonym, then promptly announced herself as a candidate for lieutenant governor.The rally closed with remarks from Harry Wait, an organizer of a conservative group in Racine County called HOT Government, an acronym for honest, open and transparent.“I want to remind everybody,” Mr. Wait said, “that yesterday’s conspiracies may be today’s reality.”Mr. Ramthun says he has questioned the result of every presidential election in Wisconsin since 1996. (He does not make an exception for the one Republican victory in that period: Mr. Trump’s in 2016.) He has pledged to consider ending the use of voting machines and to conduct an “independent full forensic physical cyber audit” of the 2020 election — and also of the 2022 election, regardless of how it turns out.Mr. Ramthun has adopted a biblical slogan — “Let there be light” — a reference to his claim that Mr. Vos is hiding the truth from voters. If Wisconsin pulls back its electoral votes, Mr. Ramthun said, other states may follow.(American presidents can be removed from office only by impeachment or by a vote of the cabinet.)Robin Vos, the speaker of Wisconsin State Assembly, told reporters on Tuesday that Republicans aiming to undo Mr. Trump’s loss were wrong to be angry with him.Andy Manis/Associated PressAll of this has become too much for Mr. Vos, who before the Trump era was a steady Republican foot soldier focused on taxes, spending and labor laws.Mr. Vos has often appeased his party’s election conspiracists, expressing his own doubts about who really won in Wisconsin, calling for felony charges against Wisconsin’s top election administrators and authorizing an investigation into the 2020 election, which is still underway.Now, even as he draws the line on decertification, Mr. Vos has tried to placate his base and plead for patience. He announced this week the Assembly plans to vote on a new package of voting bills. (Mr. Evers said in the interview on Friday that he would veto any new restrictions.)“It’s simply a matter of misdirected anger,” he said, of the criticism he’s facing. “They have already assumed that the Democrats are hopeless, and now they are focused on those of us who are trying to get at the truth, hoping we do more.”Other Republicans in the state are also walking a political tightrope — refusing to accept Mr. Biden’s victory while avoiding taking a position on Mr. Ramthun’s decertification effort.“Evidence might be out there, that is something other people are working on,” said Ron Tusler, who sits on the Assembly’s elections committee. “It’s too early to be sure but it’s possible we try it later.”State Senator Kathy Bernier is the only of Wisconsin’s 82 Republican state legislators who has made a public case that Mr. Trump lost the state fairly, without widespread fraud.Ms. Bernier, the chairwoman of the State Senate’s elections committee, in November asked the Wisconsin Legislature’s attorneys to weigh in on the legality of decertifying an election — it is not possible, they said. In December, she called for an end to the Assembly’s investigation into 2020. Three weeks later, she announced she won’t seek re-election this year.“I have no explanation as to why legislators want to pursue voter-fraud conspiracy theories that have not been proven,” Ms. Bernier said in an interview. “They should not do that. It’s dangerous to our democratic republic. They need to step back and only speak about things that they know and understand and can do. And outside of that, they should button it up.”Kitty Bennett contributed research. More

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    Recount in two Wisconsin counties reinforces Biden’s victory.

    Wisconsin’s two largest counties have concluded recounts requested by the Trump campaign, with the results slightly increasing Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s margin of victory and reaffirming his win over President Trump in this month’s election.Dane County certified its election results on Sunday, and Milwaukee County certified its totals on Friday. The Wisconsin Elections Commission is scheduled to meet on Tuesday.The conclusion of the recount adds yet another loss in the Trump campaign’s effort to upend Mr. Biden’s win. The president’s team has been dealt a series of losses in court in several key states, including Pennsylvania and Michigan.As Mr. Trump continued to propagate baseless claims of voter fraud in Wisconsin and across the country, his campaign requested recounts in two heavily Democratic counties. But it had little effect on the final results.In Milwaukee County, Mr. Biden’s ticket received 317,527 votes. Mr. Trump’s ticket received 134,482, according to county results. Both totals increased slightly compared with an earlier count, and Mr. Biden gained 132 votes.Dane County, which includes the city of Madison and the flagship campus of the University of Wisconsin, found that 260,094 votes were cast for Mr. Biden, while 78,754 were cast for Mr. Trump. Compared with earlier results, the final tally included 91 fewer ballots for Mr. Biden and 46 fewer for Mr. Trump — a net gain of 45 for Mr. Trump.Before the recount totals were announced, Mr. Trump signaled that he would continue to fight the results. “The Wisconsin recount is not about finding mistakes in the count, it is about finding people who have voted illegally, and that case will be brought after the recount is over, on Monday or Tuesday,” he wrote Saturday on Twitter. “We have found many illegal votes. Stay tuned!”The Wisconsin Elections Commission has estimated that a statewide recount would cost $7.9 million. Milwaukee County estimated that its recount would cost about $2 million, and Dane County estimated about $740,808. According to state law, Mr. Trump’s team will be expected to foot the bill because the margin between the candidates exceeded 0.25 percent.Both Milwaukee County and Dane County live-streamed their recounts. Mr. Trump has insisted that his campaign observers were unable to watch vote counts, a claim that has been disputed. More