An array of bipartisan organizations has popped up in response to President Trump’s unrelenting assault on the integrity of the election and his refusal to pledge to a peaceful transfer of power. Recognizing that we can no longer count on the incumbent president or his party to respect free and fair elections, one such bipartisan group, the Voter Protection Program, has decided to organize those who may have the biggest impact on the election: state and local officials.

VPP’s counsel, Norman Eisen (who previously served as counsel to the House impeachment managers), remains optimistic that “voters can be confident that the system will work” and that we can rely on these professional, responsible authorities at the state level.

VPP announced its goal is to ensure that all votes are counted with “a specific focus on the unique tools available to state attorneys general, as they work in partnership with governors, secretaries of state and other state officials." These are the officials who will play "a critical role in ensuring free and fair elections,” VPP’s organizers explain in a statement.

While the Trump administration and its thuggish followers may seek to discredit the election, cut off voting to prevent a full count of mail-in ballots or engage in voter intimidation, the election is a state- and local-run process. Only state authorities can prevent violence at the polls, represent states in defense of early voting provisions, prosecute illegal robo-callers and provide an authoritative voice on state election law.

People who previously held these positions are in a unique position to advise them and the public. That includes Joanna Lydgate, who launched VPP and served as chief deputy attorney general in Massachusetts. The group also has engaged experienced litigators; national experts on voting rights and election protection; and a bipartisan advisory board of former governors, attorneys general and law enforcement leaders. VPP will advise state officials, file litigation if needed, work to inform the public about the election process and fend off voter suppression and misinformation. Its website already features examples of state attorneys general’s efforts to combat voter intimidation and legal resources for state and local officials to access.

Wendy Weiser of the Brennan Center warns that the president is doing the work of our foreign adversaries by undermining the legitimacy of the U.S. election. (The Washington Post)

Board member Jahna Lindemuth, who served as Alaska’s appointed attorney general under independent Gov. Bill Walker, says, “State and local leaders are front and center when it comes to election integrity. There has never been a more important time to reinforce the power of our democracy — and send a message to those seeking to undermine it that we are paying attention." She emphasizes, "Voters can and should trust the system and the outcome of this election, just like we have for centuries.”

VPP’s advisory board includes former Democratic and Republican governors (including Bill Weld of Massachusetts, Tom Ridge of Pennsylvania and Christine Todd Whitman of New Jersey), as well as former attorneys general of Kentucky, Nevada, Mississippi, Alaska, New Mexico, New Hampshire and Arizona. It also includes active law enforcement leaders and the president of the Major County Sheriffs of America.

It is unusual for current police officials to join such efforts, but Art Acevedo, Houston’s police chief and president of the Major Cities Chiefs Association, makes clear his interest in joining is to prevent chaos, confusion and violence. “Across the country, the law enforcement community is working together to make sure this election is safe and fair and that every vote is counted," he says. "It’s all hands on deck, because we know that the integrity of our election is key to our success. We will make sure things go well, and that should be every patriotic American’s goal.”

This group is different from others insofar as it reaches out to state officials who will have responsibility to protect voting rights, using the expertise and stature of those who have experience in these jobs. While many individuals and experts have sounded the alarm about White House efforts to disrupt and discredit the election, Lydgate voices confidence that “state AGs absolutely have the tools to prevent intimidation.” The group will provide research and advice to state attorneys general on deployment of their ample tools to prevent and if need be prosecute voter intimidation, which is illegal in every state.

Several current state AGs from both parties have already vocally defended the integrity of the election and reassured voters that their ballots will be counted. Dave Yost, Republican state attorney general for Ohio, put out a video addressing misinformation, exaggerated claims of “vote harvesting,” and intimidation. "Don’t try this stuff in Ohio, because there will be a price to pay,” Yost said. Nevada’s Democratic Attorney General Aaron Ford also has vowed to prevent and punish voter intimidation. “Believe me when I say it: You do it, and you will be prosecuted,” he tweeted this month.

These statements are encouraging. When the chips are down in the election, when Trump is hollering “fraud," when militia thugs create an atmosphere of fear and when disinformation circulates seeking to delegitimize mail-in ballots, these officials will need to rise to the occasion. They do not work for Trump. They work for the people of their states and take an oath to defend the Constitution. When Trump is long gone, it is their actions during this tumultuous election that will be remembered.

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