Travis Ford sentenced, Mark Rissi charged in separate election threats

A Nebraska man was sentenced Thursday to 18 months in prison for online threats he made to Colorado’s secretary of state, while in a separate action, an Iowa man was arrested for threatening an official of the Maricopa County, Ariz., Board of Supervisors.

The two cases were brought by the Justice Department’s Election Threats Task Force, which was established last year “to ensure that all election workers are able to do their jobs free of harassment and intimidation.”

They reflect what watchdogs and officials have described as the increasingly hostile atmosphere that emerged after the 2020 election and ahead of next month’s midterm elections.

Travis Ford of Lincoln was sentenced after pleading guilty to sending threats to Colorado Secretary of State Jena Griswold, a Democrat. The case was the first guilty plea obtained by the new federal task force. Prosecutors alleged that Ford made violent threats multiple times through an Instagram account.

Attorney General Merrick Garland said Ford’s prison sentence “makes it clear that those who unlawfully threaten election workers must be prepared to face meaningful penalties.”

FBI Director Christopher Wray said the case shows the Justice Department’s determination to go after those who issue threats against election workers. “Make no mistake, intimidation of election officials is a serious attack on our democratic process,” Wray said. “Today’s sentencing proves that the FBI and our partners will stand up to anyone who tries to intimidate election workers to do their jobs.”

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The man charged with threats in Arizona was identified Thursday as Mark A. Rissi, 64, of Hiawatha, Iowa. He reportedly left a voicemail for Clint Hickman, chairman of the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors, as a review of the Arizona ballot — ordered by the Republican Senate. was about to close.

“You must die, you piece [expletive]. We’re going to hang you. We are going to hang you,” the indictment said.

Hickman’s experiences were recounted as part of The Washington Post’s three-part series on the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, which described how threats against local election administrators only grew after the violence in Washington.

In an interview Thursday, Hickman, 57, expressed gratitude that an arrest had been made — but said more action was needed.

As chairman of the board during the 2020 election, Hickman resisted efforts by allies of President Donald Trump to prevent certification of the results in the county that helped deliver Trump’s loss. In the days, months and years that followed, Hickman said, he and his colleagues on the board, along with county election officials have been inundated with threatening voicemails, emails and social media posts from Trump supporters.

Hickman said he met with two FBI agents and a Justice Department attorney on July 20 and recognized the frightening voice-mail message they cited in the case.

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“The wheels of justice turn terribly slowly, even when there may be actionable threats against not only me, but against my family, against our colleagues, my colleagues, the recorder and election staff, people who are just trying to do a job,” he said. “This has been going on for a long time and I know there are hundreds, if not thousands, of election officials who have received calls like this.”

“I’m glad something is finally happening,” Hickman said. But he urged leaders in Arizona and elsewhere to speak out against the growing threats.

In August, Justice Department officials told a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing that they had reviewed more than 1,000 hostile threats against election workers over the past year, leading to federal charges in five cases and one conviction.

Assistant Attorney General Kenneth A. Polite, who heads the task force, said at the time that the problem was becoming more widespread across the country. He described graphic, violent threats directed at election officials in Nevada, Michigan, Arizona and other states.

Sanchez reported from Phoenix. Rosalind S. Helderman contributed to this report.

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