Harassed and harangued, tellers now have a new form of defense


WASHINGTON – Maybe that’s a metaphor for when even the volunteer who put you in the polls in November now has a legal defense committee.

The Election Officials Legal Defense Network, which made its public debut on September 7, of course offers to represent more than just election agents. Formed to counter the waves of political pressure and public intimidation that election workers faced over the past year, the organization promises free legal services to anyone involved in the voting process, from secretaries of state to officials. local election officials and volunteers.

The group has already received requests from several election officials, said David J. Becker, executive director of the nonprofit. Center for Electoral Innovation and Research, who oversees the project. Without going into details, Mr Becker said their questions were “related to issues such as harassment and bullying”.

The network is the creation of two powers in Republican and Democratic legal circles, Benjamin L. Ginsberg and Bob Bauer. In a Washington Post opinion piece this month the two – Mr. Ginsberg was a leading GOP lawyer for 38 years and Mr. Bauer was both Democratic Party attorney and White House attorney in the Obama administration – wrote that such attacks on those “supervising the counting and casting of ballots on an independent and non-partisan basis are destructive to our democracy.

“If such attacks are not addressed, our system of self-governance will suffer long-term damage,” they said.

Mr. Ginsberg, who has broken with his party and has become a scathing critic of former President Donald J. Trump’s false claims that the 2020 election was stolen from him, and Mr. Bauer are election experts themselves. The two men chaired together the Presidential Commission on the Administration of Elections established by former President Barack Obama in 2013, who called – with limited success – to modernize electoral procedures and equipment to make voting easier and safer.

In an interview, Mr Bauer said that he and Mr Ginsberg are recruiting attorneys for the Legal Defense Network, hoping to create an organization “so in any state where this happens we are able to provide election officials who are under siege with legal support. Dozens of people have already joined the effort, and many more are expected to join soon, Becker said.

The center is non-partisan and offers to represent election workers of all political stripes, whether they work in a red or blue district. But as the announcement of MM. As Ginsburg and Bauer implicitly noted, the problems facing election workers did not explode until after the 2020 general election and are almost entirely attributable to Mr. Trump’s conservative supporters and lawmakers in Republican-controlled states. .

One-third of election workers say they don’t feel safe at work, say a survey published this summer by the Bipartisan Policy Center and the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University. In Colorado, Arizona, Michigan, Georgia and other states, staunch supporters of Mr. Trump’s stolen election lies have threatened state and local election officials and their families with violence and even death. Some election workers went into hiding or asked for police protection.

Republican-controlled state legislatures have responded to allegations of fraud by taking control of aspects of election administration and subjecting election workers to fines or even jail time for breaking the rules.

In Iowa, a new law subjects election officials who violate the new voting rules to criminal prosecution. New Texas law leaves election workers liable to prosecution if they are knowingly tried obstruct the view controllers in favor of the polls. In Florida, a new rule fines for local election officials up to $ 25,000 if they leave the ballot boxes unattended or allow voters to cast their ballots after official hours.

Becker of the Center for Innovation and Research called the growing intimidation of election workers unreasonable. “They are civil servants in most cases,” he said. “These aren’t people doing this because they want to get rich and famous. They do this out of a sense of duty.

The legal network is likely to be valuable precisely because most of the people it will serve are, in fact, ordinary citizens, said David Levine, electoral integrity expert at the Washington-based Washington office. Alliance for the Securing of Democracy. Mr. Levine has worked as an election official in the District of Columbia and Idaho.

“It’s hard enough to do your job well when you face tremendous stress and work long hours, let alone having to wonder if your decisions could pose threats to your colleagues and family,” a- he declared. “It serves an important purpose to say ‘We stand by you, regardless of the size of your electoral jurisdiction or your wealth or that of your community.’ “

Mr. Bauer has mixed feelings about the applause for the new venture.

“It’s hard to say that we are successful because there is a huge demand for this type of support,” he said. “That there is this demand is deeply troubling. “

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