BOB BAUER & BEN GINSBERG: State election officials are under attack. We will defend them
Saturday, June 5, 2021 -- Laws already passed in Republican-controlled states, no matter their stated intent, will be used as a weapon of intimidation aimed at the people, many of them volunteers, charged with running fair elections at the local and state levels. By subjecting them to invasive, politically motivated control by a state legislative majority, these provisions shift the last word in elections from the pros to the pols. This is a serious attack on the crucial norm that our elections should be run on a professional, nonpartisan basis -- and it is deeply wrong.Posted — Updated
Laws like those already passed in Republican-controlled states like Georgia and Iowa, no matter their stated intent, will be used as a weapon of intimidation aimed at the people, many of them volunteers, charged with running fair elections at the local and state levels. By subjecting them to invasive, politically motivated control by a state legislative majority, these provisions shift the last word in elections from the pros to the pols. This is a serious attack on the crucial norm that our elections should be run on a professional, nonpartisan basis — and it is deeply wrong.
It is so wrong that having once worked together across the partisan divide as co-chairs of the 2013-14 Presidential Commission on Election Administration, we have decided to come together again to mobilize the defense of election officials who may come under siege from these new laws.
The new laws establish civil penalties for technical infractions and subject officials to threats of suspension and even criminal prosecution. Iowa state election officials are now subject to fines of $10,000 and suspension for any actions that “hinder or disregard the object of the law.” They are also subject to criminal penalties when seeking to address disruptive conduct by partisan poll watchers. In Georgia, an election official threatened with suspension may appeal, but the law restricts state-financed support for the individual’s legal defense. The Georgia secretary of state, the chief election official, has been removed from the chairmanship of the State Elections Board, demoted to nonvoting ex officio status.
The partisan efforts to control election outcomes will result in the corruption of our system of government, which is rooted in fair, free elections. We say this as longtime election lawyers from opposing political parties. In jointly leading the presidential commission, we worked with numerous local and state elections officials. We saw firsthand the dedication and professionalism they brought to their jobs. They work hard with inadequate resources and are rarely praised for what goes well and are quickly blamed for what goes wrong.
In 2020, after the pandemic struck, these officials performed the near-impossible task of locating replacements for thousands of poll workers, reconfiguring polling places to offer safe voting spaces for voters and poll workers and ramping up effective mail voting where allowed under state law.
Now their nonpartisan performance of their duties is under attack — even to the point of being criminalized. So we are committed to providing these officials a defense against these attacks and threats by recruiting lawyers around the country, Democrats and Republicans, to establish a network that would provide free legal support to election officials who face threats, fines or suspensions for doing their jobs. This national network will monitor new threats as they develop and publicly report on what it learns.
No requirement of our electoral process — of our democracy — is more critical than the commitment to nonpartisanship in the administration of our system for casting and counting of ballots now being degraded by these state laws. This challenge must be strongly and forcefully met in every possible way by Democrats and Republicans alike.
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