Threats against election officials unlikely to stop, Maricopa County recorder says

Maricopa County Recorder Stephen Richer/Cronkite News

By Gloria Rebecca Gomez | The Arizona Republic

The state’s top elections official received a death threat last year. It wasn’t the first, and he fears it won’t be the last. 

On Tuesday, 50-year-old Missouri resident Walter Lee Hoornstra was indicted on suspicion of sending a threatening voicemail to Maricopa County Recorder Stephen Richer in May 2021. In it, Hoornstra warned Richer to stop speaking out against the Arizona Senate audit, or Richer would “never make it to (his) next little board meeting,” according to the indictment.

Previous coverage:Missouri man indicted after threatening voicemail was left for Maricopa County Recorder

Baseless claims that fraud occurred during the 2020 election sowed mistrust among voters, and election officials have borne the brunt of their vitriol. Across the country, election officials have resigned after dealing with relentless harassment. Richer estimates that he’s received thousands of hateful messages during his tenure since January 2021. So many that the threat from Hoornstra, at that point, wasn’t enough to cancel meetings or give him pause.

“This would’ve been one of a deluge of voicemails, emails and social media messages at this time,” Richer said Thursday in an interview with The Arizona Republic.

Allegations from the Arizona Senate audit inspired many of the messages, Richer said. Hoornstra’s voicemail came after the audit’s Twitter account falsely accused election officials of deleting electronic databases. In fact, contractors had simply been looking in the wrong place for the information, Richer said.

The spread of inflammatory misinformation about election integrity invariably leads to a spike in harassment, Richer said. 

“We would see an uptick in vitriol correspondence, and thinly veiled threats whenever they would make some sort of comment like that,” he said. 

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