A new national legal defense network has been created to help out election officials around the country to respond to threats and attempts to “criminalize” their professional judgements.

What You Need To Know

  • The Election Official Legal Defense Network will connect licensed, qualified, pro bono attorneys with election administrators who need advice or assistance

  • Several states have passed laws this year that impose penalties, including fines and jail time, on election officials for “simply doing their job,” says Ben Ginsberg, co-chair of the network

  • Reuters reports that there have been more than 100 threats of death or violence have been received by more than 40 elected officials, workers and their relatives this year

The Election Official Legal Defense Network is being co-chaired by two legal election heavyweights: Bob Bauer, the former White House counsel during the Obama administration, and Ben Ginsberg, who served as counsel to George W. Bush’s presidential campaign.

“The basic premise that we have in starting this is that the laws that have been passed around the country criminalizing the actions of elections officials will come at a cost to the democracy,” Ginsberg said during a virtual press conference on Wednesday.

The legal defense network will be managed by the Center for Election Innovation and Research, led by David Becker, who previously served as a voting rights attorney with the Justice Department during the Clinton and George W. Bush administrations. The attorneys who will work with election officials are doing so pro-bono.

“We see now still to this day, death threats and other threats being targeted at election officials, the professional election officials at the state and local level, and even their families, now even now that we’re almost a year past the election,” said Becker. 

Among those local election officials who support the creation of the legal defense network is Brian Corley, the Republican Pasco County Supervisor of Elections, who said that despite the success of last year’s election in Florida “we’ve almost being criminalized in our professionalism.”

Corley went on to discuss how some members of his staff have been subjected to racial slurs between 30 to 50 times.

“I had a staff member that was threatened to be shot.  Threatened to be beaten. I was called an enemy of the state. Part of the deep state conspiracy. I was pulling for Joe Biden. What was my crime? Encouraging voters to consider voting by mail during a pandemic. We sent a postcard out as an option for voters. Keyword – option,” he said.

Corley also mentioned how shortly after he posted a statement affirming the results of the 2020 election, protestors showed up at the house where he used to live and is still occupied by his ex-wife and child, and how particular threats made on social media prompted him to reach out to the FBI.

His comments came on the same day that Reuters reported that they have documented 102 threats of death or violence received by more than 40 elected officials, workers and their relatives in eight of the most contested battleground states in last November’s presidential election.

Corley also blasted a provision in Florida’s recently enacted election reform bill (SB 90) that subject supervisors of elections to civil fines of $25,000 if a voter drops a ballot in an unattended drop box. He said that the new law led a longtime supervisor of elections in Florida to quit.

Though unnamed, he appeared to be referring to Jefferson County Supervisor of Elections Marty Bishop, a Republican who announced last month that after more than 20 years in office he would be stepping down at the end of September. In his resignation letter, Bishop wrote that the continuing changes in Florida’s election laws place supervisors of elections “in precarious situations which only adds additional stress to an already stressful job, and can also contribute to the deterioration of one’s health.”

The Election Official Legal Defense Network also has a bipartisan advisory board which includes more than 30 election officials around the country, including Wesley Wilcox, the Republican Supervisor of Elections in Marion County.

Becker says that the creation of this legal defense network for election officials is “unfortunately necessary.”

“Given the conversations that I think that many of us have had with election officials around the country, it’s an unfortunate byproduct of the environment that we live in and the election denialism that we’re seeing,” he said.

Spectrum Bay News 9 reached out to the supervisor of elections offices in Pinellas and Hillsborough County about the legal defense network, but neither office responded back for comment.