In 2020, election officials tried to make voting easier and safer amid a global pandemic. Next time, they might get fined or face criminal charges.

Republicans are creating a new slate of punishments for the county officials who run elections, arguing they overstepped their authority when they expanded voter access during the coronavirus pandemic.

The new penalties, part of a nationwide Republican campaign to roll back access to the ballot, already have become law in Iowa, Georgia and Florida, and are making their way through statehouses in Texas and elsewhere. The GOP push comes after a presidential contest that saw record turnout and no widespread problems.

Election officials have responded with warnings of a chilling effect on those responsible for administering the vote and counting ballots, raising fears they could be penalized for minor mistakes, get caught up in partisan fights or even leave their jobs.

In Iowa, Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds drew heavy criticism for signing a broad voting bill in March that shortens hours at polling places, narrows the early voting period and imposes new restrictions on mail and absentee ballots. The law also bans sending unsolicited absentee ballot applications to voters, as some officials did before the 2020 election.

One provision is especially worrisome to Linn County Auditor Joel Miller: a fine of up to $10,000 for a “technical infraction” of election rules. Miller says the penalty could be imposed for unintentional mistakes like opening a polling place a few minutes late, and raises concerns about partisan enforcement.

“It’s a lot of moving parts and a lot of variables and people make mistakes, and now I’m liable for all those mistakes,” he told The Associated Press. “The process could be likewise corrupted by the secretary of state arbitrarily administering the law in a very uneven manner, depending on whether you’re a Democratic county or a Republican county.”

Looming fines also could dissuade people from taking jobs as election workers or make staffers hesitant to help voters, especially in smaller counties that can’t afford to risk the costly penalties, said Travis Weipert, Democratic auditor of Johnson County, Iowa.

“It’s literally becoming, when you look at the laws, the haves and the have-nots,” he said. “The counties that can pay to still continue what they do are going to do it, and the counties that can’t are going to be restricting voting.”

A similar bill signed into law Thursday by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican, could lead to $25,000 fines for election supervisors if a ballot drop box is accessible outside of early voting hours or is left unsupervised.