(Adds reporting from press call in paragraphs 6, 7, and 9)
Ben Ginsberg, a GOP election lawyer who helped George W. Bush prevail in the Florida recount in 2000, is now wielding his legal expertise to provide advice to election officials threatened by Republican-initiated voting laws.
He’s teaming up with Democratic lawyer Bob Bauer to help election officials from both parties deal with harassment stemming from Donald Trump’s grievances about the 2020 election and new state laws that restrict their authority.
Ginsberg and Bauer, who previously worked together in 2013 as co-chairs of a presidential commission on how to remove barriers to voting, will serve as co-chairs of the new Election Official Legal Defense Network, founded in collaboration with the nonprofit Center for Election Innovation & Research. The network will provide officials with legal advice and representation at no cost, they said.
“Election officials face an increasing wave of state laws subjecting them to criminal penalties for performing their professional duties, while at the same time facing threats of violence to themselves and their families,” Bauer and Ginsberg said in a joint statement, along with David Becker, director of the Center for Election Innovation & Research.
Longtime disagreements between the major political parties over voting rules have been exacerbated since the 2020 election. Republicans say new laws are needed to restore public confidence after Trump’s false claims the election was stolen. Democrats counter that these laws are intended to prevent their supporters, including minorities, from casting ballots.
“Intimidation of election officials is actually becoming a strategy,” Ginsberg said Wednesday in a call with reporters, with “weaponized poll watchers” and threats to election officials being used by partisans to try to gain office.
The network of volunteer lawyers being assembled will help these officials across the country to respond to threats and avoid being bullied, he said. Legal services offered could range from informal advice to litigation.
Ginsberg was at the forefront of GOP election efforts for decades, including Bush’s Florida recount battle against Al Gore after the 2000 election. More recently, he’s worked cooperatively with Democrats, including Bauer, Barack Obama’s White House counsel. Ginsberg has fiercely criticized Trump and said that widespread voter fraud cited by Republicans to justify restrictive voting laws “doesn’t exist.”
Bauer said on the call that the involvement of Ginsberg and other Republicans serving on the legal network’s advisory board should send a message to the public. “We need a strong note of bipartisanship to be sounded in defense of these officials,” he said.
Examples where local election officials say they may be threatened include a new Texas law signed Tuesday by Gov. Greg Abbott (R). The Texas law ends drive-thru voting, implemented by Harris County to facilitate socially distanced voting in Democrat-dominated Houston during the pandemic. It limits mail-in voting and gives more power to partisan poll watchers, among other things.
Abbott said in signing it that the Texas law would restore “trust and confidence in our elections.”
According to a lawsuit filed by the Brennan Center for Justice and others, the law will make it harder for election workers to maintain safety and security in the polling place by curtailing election workers’ authority to remove partisan poll watchers who are harassing voters. The law could subject election workers to prosecution if they try to limit poll watchers’ behavior.
Harris County Elections Administrator Isabel Longoria, who joined the lawsuit, said her First Amendment free speech rights would be restricted under the bill’s anti-solicitation provision, which makes it a crime for her to encourage individuals to apply to vote by mail.
“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,” Ginsberg and Bauer said in a Washington Post op-ed.
To contact the reporter on this story: Kenneth P. Doyle in Washington at firstname.lastname@example.org