Election officials are coming under unprecedented attack for doing their jobs. Some states are attempting to criminalize the exercise of these officials’ trained professional judgments; some officials have been the target of threats to themselves and their families. Any American — whether Republican, Democrat or independent — must know that systematic efforts to undermine the ability of those overseeing the counting and casting of ballots on an independent, nonpartisan basis are destructive to our democracy.
The two of us have been partisan opponents in the past, representing opposing political parties to the best of our abilities. But at this moment in time, we share a grave concern about attacks on those public servants who successfully oversaw what was arguably the most secure and transparent election in our country’s history, with record turnout, during a global pandemic. If such attacks go unaddressed, our system of self-governance will suffer long-term damage.
So, in partnership with the nonprofit and nonpartisan Center for Election Innovation & Research, we are launching the Election Official Legal Defense Network (EOLDN), which will connect licensed, qualified, pro bono attorneys with election administrators who need advice or assistance. State and local election workers anywhere in the country can go to EOLDN.org, or call the toll-free number (877) 313-5210, at any time, 24/7, to request to be connected with a lawyer who can help them, at no cost.
This service will be available regardless of the officials’ political affiliation or where they work — that is, whether they are in a blue or red state or county. We already have lawyers committed to provide this volunteer support, and we are recruiting more. As co-chairs, we will be supported by a bipartisan advisory board of experienced state and local election officials of both parties, from across the nation. The response from these officials has been extraordinary and gratifying.
When we co-chaired the Presidential Commission on Election Administration in 2013-2014, we saw how essential it is for election officials to have the space, resources and respect to perform their critical jobs. We both came away extremely impressed with their dedication and performance.
Actual threats to these nonpartisan officials did not generally emerge until after the 2020 presidential election. We raised the issue earlier this summer, noting how the Iowa legislature criminalized election officials’ conduct in assisting voters, and how election officials in Anchorage were subjected to incidents of harassment and attempted intimidation by a candidate during a local election in Alaska. Since early June, several states, including Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Iowa and Texas, have passed legislation imposing criminal penalties, including fines and jail time, on election officials and volunteer poll workers for simply doing their jobs. Several states have increased the power of partisan poll watchers, which can greatly increase tension in polling places and the burden on election officials to provide a safe and efficient polling place.
In addition, the ramped-up efforts to initiate partisan reviews of ballots and voting machines in several states are being used to bully election officials into relinquishing the control and chain of custody of official records and equipment, in likely violation of their duties under federal and state law. The ongoing Arizona “audit” is the most notable, but in just the past month, partisans in Nevada, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin have attempted to seize ballots and equipment, despite the lack of any evidence of fraud that would warrant such extrajudicial, and costly, fishing expeditions this long after the election.
The unyielding barrage of threats to election officials — Republicans, Democrats, state level, locals — continues to this day. Many received threats to themselves and their families, regardless of which way their states voted in 2020. Often, these officials lack the legal resources to oppose efforts to intimidate them into violating their duties to voters and the law.
That is where our legal defense network will help. It will be managed by the Center for Election Innovation and Research and its executive director, David Becker. Becker was a voting rights lawyer with the Justice Department during the Bill Clinton and George W. Bush administrations, and he has worked with election officials from both parties for the past two decades.
We are proud to join in leading this important effort, and hope that this serves as a deterrent to those who might harass dedicated public servants for self-interested political gain.