As midterm primary elections begin, two prominent attorneys, one Republican and one Democrat, are warning that officials who administer elections are facing a level of threat and intimidation that could jeopardize American democracy if it remains unchecked.
Republican attorney Ben Ginsberg told 60 Minutes, "The activities that they have always undertaken to run our elections are being politicized, criminalized, and basically taken to a different level of uncomfortableness for them."
Ginsberg has spent his career steeped in election law. During the 2000 Florida recount, he was a key architect of the controversial legal strategy that won George W. Bush the presidency. Now he has teamed up with Bob Bauer, a former White House Counsel to President Barack Obama and senior advisor to the Joe Biden presidential campaign.
The two have created the Election Official Legal Defense Network, which provides pro bono legal advice to local and state election officials facing threats or intimidation, regardless of party affiliation. The network is a project of the nonpartisan Center for Election Innovation & Research, founded by David Becker, an attorney who served in the Voting Section of the Department of Justice Civil Rights Division during the Bill Clinton and George W. Bush administrations. Becker is also a CBS News contributor.
"One of the messages that we're sending out," Bauer said, "is that those who are threatening them, threatening these officials, whether they're full-time, whether they're volunteers, whether they're in positions of the most senior responsibility or they're simply on the staff — those who threaten them need to know they cannot act with impunity." He added: "There will be a defense and it will be a robust defense."
A survey published on March 10 by the Brennan Center for Justice found that one in six local election officials have experienced threats and one in five say they are likely to leave their jobs before the 2024 presidential election.
"We've frankly been stunned by the number of election officials we've heard from already who have felt that they needed to be able to talk to an attorney of their own to be able to resolve either the threats of law or the personal threats to them," Ginsberg said.
Ginsberg and Bauer told 60 Minutes the threats against election officials take many forms.
"There are statutory enactments, in some states, that put election officials at potential risk of criminal prosecution for simply making mistakes, so they'll be continually looking over their shoulder," Bauer said. "There are threats being issued at them by state legislatures that are claiming that they engaged in some kind of misconduct and conducting sham audits to allegedly expose wrongdoing that, in fact, never occurred."
Ginsberg said that, although he and Bauer do not agree on much politically, they are committed to protecting the country's democracy, which they feel is currently at risk from unfounded Republican claims of widespread voter fraud in 2020.
"Why I'm particularly concerned at this stage is that the people I've represented for the last 40 years, the Republican Party, is taking a position that I think is not supportable by the facts and does have a particularly pernicious effect on the democracy," Ginsberg said.
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