BENNINGTON — Gov. Phil Scott said Monday that he would consider new legislation to provide protection to election workers who have increasingly received disturbing messages by phone or email.
“Election workers are doing their civic duty, and they don’t deserve any of what they are receiving across the nation,” the governor said. He spoke during a media conference in Bennington to mark completion of a project to provide clean water to properties contaminated by PFOA.
Noting the polarization in the country “in all facets of government,” Scott said, “we all just need to step back and realize how fortunate we are to live in the country that we have. And we need, as well, to just remember that we are Americans first, and Vermonters as well, and just treat each other with respect and civility.”
State Sen. Dick Sears, D-Bennington, who also attended the news conference, said, “A number of us will be introducing legislation based on the federal standards for criminal threats, which would be a little stronger than the state standard.”
But he added that legislation “doesn’t solve all the problems” when “people just get out of control and push the ‘send’ button with no consequences.”
Scott said he will consider what the Legislature develops, “and I look forward to having the debate.”
The Vermont State Police said last week that the agency is declining to investigate comments made to state election officials by a man believed to be from Bennington.
State police said the comments, which some called threats, were not criminal, but rather protected speech.
State police were responding to an extensive Reuters special report called “Campaign of Fear,” which highlighted threats to election officials in Vermont and nationally.
Reuters included a case involving the local man, who shouted at state election workers last December, urging them to “put a [expletive] pistol in your [expletive] mouth and pull the trigger.”
While state police acknowledged that the comments were “disturbing,” “offensive, profane and upsetting,” police said, because no specific person was targeted and no plan put forward, there was no criminality.
Reuters also said that the FBI has launched an inquiry into the case.
The Reuters report investigated nine cases — including the one in Vermont — of serious threats made against election officials following the 2020 presidential election.
Eight of the nine people interviewed gave their names to reporters; the caller who used the Vermont number did not identify himself.