What is the Election Official Legal Defense Network?

March 2024 3 min read by The CEIR Team

In the midst of unprecedented threats and harassment against election officials, a nationwide network of pro bono legal support is available to defend those on the front line of democracy.

American electoral politics has never been free of bitterness and rancor. As far back as Jefferson and Adams in 1796, candidates have hurled abuse at each other and riled their supporters to a fever pitch. But never before in our history has a terrifying and sustained level of abuse been hurled at election officials—the poll workers, registrars, recorders, clerks, secretaries of state, and other civil servants who actually run our election system.

Though election disinformation had been in play long before 2020, it was only after that election that threats and abuse against election workers reached a fever pitch. This was ironic, because thanks largely to these officials, and despite taking place during a pandemic, the 2020 election was arguably the most secure and verified election in our country’s history, with high transparency and record turnout.

Yet election officials quickly came under unprecedented attack as losing candidates made baseless claims that the election had been “stolen.” Election workers began reporting being chased on the road, doxxed online, berated, threatened, and terrorized by angry partisans convinced that the workers were part of a massive conspiracy to defraud them. Some have had their families targeted by violent threats, even their children. Some have had to seek medical treatment for PTSD.

The threats quickly became systemic as several states attempted to criminalize the exercise of these officials’ professional judgments or for minor errors. In 2021 alone, the Iowa legislature criminalized any action by an election worker that is perceived to have “hindered” the functioning of an election, and states including Arizona, Texas, Florida, and Georgia passed laws imposing steep fines or imprisonment for various perceived infractions. Several states have also relaxed restrictions on partisan poll watchers, a source of significant tension in some jurisdictions, while threatening poll workers with criminal penalties if they restrict the poll watchers’ freedom beyond (often vague) limits.

These officials often lack the legal or financial resources to protect themselves. Given that mixture of high stress and legal jeopardy, it’s not surprising that an unprecedented exodus of talented, committed individuals from the field of election administration is now underway.

To protect election workers, the nonpartisan Center for Election Innovation & Research (CEIR) launched the Election Official Legal Defense Network (EOLDN), a service connecting election administrators in need of legal advice or assistance with licensed pro bono attorneys. State and local election workers anywhere in the country can go to EOLDN.org, or call (877) 313-5210, day or night, to request connection to a lawyer at no cost.

EOLDN can also connect an elections office to a communications professional, free of charge, to address issues related to elections or election administration on behalf of their county office or agency. This could include ongoing communication strategy support during an election; responding to misinformation or an attack on election integrity; or rapid response and media relations.

The Election Official Legal Defense Network is the brainchild of former Presidential Commission on Election Administration co-chairs Bob Bauer (White House Counsel during the Obama Administration) and Ben Ginsberg (Republican election lawyer who represented President George W. Bush’s campaign). Bauer and Ginsberg serve as EOLDN’s co-chairs, and, along with EOLDN’s advisory board of experts, attorneys, and election officials, help guide this effort, recruit volunteer lawyers, and educate election officials about the services available.

EOLDN’s services are available regardless of political affiliation. As a public charity exempt from federal income tax under section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, CEIR may not participate or intervene in any political campaign on behalf of, or in opposition to, candidates for public office.

For more information or to request assistance, visit EOLDN.org.

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