The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion We need laws to protect election workers like ‘Lady Ruby’ Freeman

Former Georgia election worker Wandrea' ArShaye “Shaye” Moss, foreground, is seen as her mother, Ruby Freeman, wipes a tear, as the House Jan. 6 committee holds a public hearing on June 21. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)
Placeholder while article actions load

Ruby Freeman was given a jewel of a name, but later had the gumption to crown herself “Lady Ruby.” Imagine having the confidence to build a business around that brand and then creating T-shirts in several colors with that marque to sell and to wear at your pop-up fashion boutique or while serving as a poll worker in Fulton County, Ga.

And then imagine having to run away from your name and your life and everything you know because the president of the United States had targeted you in a lie to try to stay in an office that he did not earn.

Lawmakers moved with lightning speed this month to protect the safety of Supreme Court justices in their homes. Well, if they can do that, they also need to grease the effort to safeguard honest election officials and poll workers facing a barrage of harassment, intimidation and death threats motivated by Donald Trump’s attempt to overturn the results of an election he lost.

The need for this became crystal clear during Tuesday’s hearing before the House committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol.

Follow Michele L. Norris's opinionsFollow

Arizona House Speaker Russell “Rusty” Bowers (R) told the committee that Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani told him, “We’ve got lots of theories, but we just don’t have the evidence.” Even so, the Trump team implored Bowers to decertify the election by replacing the electors seated through popular votes for Joe Biden with “fake” ones who would support Trump.

The former president himself called on Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger (R) to find him 11,780 more votes, as if he were ordering a burger and fries.

One by one, witnesses described how they refused to play along with the scheme. One by one they described the price they paid for their valor.

Raffensperger testified that his wife was harassed and said people broke into the home of his daughter-in-law — a widow raising two kids. Bowers said he now dreads Saturdays, because mobs congregate outside his home with video trucks and massive loudspeakers, accusing him of being a pedophile.

This article was featured in the Opinions A.M. newsletter. Sign up here for a digest of opinions in your inbox six days a week.

But it was the testimony of election workers Wandrea ArShaye “Shaye” Moss and her mother, Ruby Freeman (a.k.a. Lady Ruby), that best underscored the human toll. They were at the center of an accusation concocted by Trump and Giuliani who falsely, and repeatedly, claimed that the two had processed fake ballots for Joe Biden.

At Tuesday’s hearing we learned that Giuliani falsely said Moss passed a thumb drive to her mother during the vote-counting process and compared it to passing “vials of heroin or cocaine” — punctuating the lie with an ugly stereotype because two Black women were the villains he needed to sell his ridiculous story. (It was a mint, Moss testified.)

The resulting attention upended Moss’s and Freeman’s lives. People filled their Facebook accounts and phone messages with hate. In a clear reference to lynching and racial terrorism, Moss was told, “You should be glad it’s 2020 and not 1920.”

Both women left their jobs and went into hiding. “I don’t go to the grocery store at all. I haven’t been anywhere at all. I’ve gained about 60 pounds,” Moss testified, fighting back tears.

Freeman, once so proud of her moniker, doesn’t dare use it in public now. “I get nervous when I bump into someone I know at the grocery store who says my name,” she said. “I’m worried about who’s listening. ... I am always concerned of who’s around me. I’ve lost my name, and I’ve lost my reputation. I’ve lost my sense of security.”

She, and everyone else who testified Tuesday, did so knowing that the threats against them will amplify. They did it knowing that election officials across the country are facing increasing intimidation. They did it knowing that violence is a real possibility.

During the Senate debate over protecting Supreme Court justices and their families, Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.) said, “Threats to the physical safety of Supreme Court justices and their families are disgraceful, and ... cannot be tolerated.”

Threats to the physical safety of election officials and poll workers also should not be tolerated. Yet they are sadly becoming almost routine.

This cannot stand. It is a crime in the United States to threaten a postal worker or willfully obstruct the mail — a crime punishable by jail time. Surely protecting our democracy is as important as protecting the delivery of our mail.

Republican legislatures across the country are backing new laws to penalize election officials who leave ballot boxes unattended or let non-citizens register to vote. What we really need are more laws to protect the well-being of these workers, who are central to the voting process.

Democracy is based on the decision of voters to chart the course of a country through their ballots. It relies on the ability of those who oversee that process to do their jobs without fear of intimidation or threats from people willing to resort to thuggery because they are not certain they can win if they play by the rules.

Loading...