Bullying by Wisconsin election officials eats away at democracy

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The recent pattern of attempted intimidation of state and local election officials, combined with attempts to inject partisan influence over voting and vote counting, has thrown Wisconsin into the spotlight of a destructive trend towards l national scale which, if successful, will erode public confidence in our electoral process.

We formed the bipartite Election Officials Legal Defense Network precisely in response to these extraordinary developments – threats of physical harm and criminal prosecution directed at election officials who fail to comply with the results desired by a party. The network is managed by the non-partisan team and respected nationally. Center for Electoral Innovation and Research, and includes a bipartisan advisory board of more than 30 election officials and experts from across the country. All attacked officials and staff who want free legal representation will have access to it through the network. We have been pleased with the number of lawyers and law firms willing to offer their services and are looking for additional volunteers.

To underscore our commitment to this effort and to clarify the availability of support through the network for election officials in Wisconsin as well as across the country, we will be hosting a media event in Madison with election experts and a Wisconsin state senator. to address the nature of this threat and the response we believe is necessary.

Actions and threats of prosecution by some Wisconsin lawmakers and the Racine County Sheriff illustrate why the network is needed.

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Wisconsin has become point zero for attempts by political actors to gain partisan control over a state’s electoral process. The state presented baseless threats of criminal prosecution against members of the Wisconsin Election Commission and its executive director. Law enforcement personnel making these threats have been irresponsibly encouraged by state lawmakers, who have also allowed a “balance sheet” of the 2020 elections who appears to be chasing his own tail while loudly attacking the accuracy of election results without proof.

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As co-chairs of the network, we are committed to ensuring that election officials can defend themselves against the kinds of unfounded personal attacks to do their jobs that the nation sees in Wisconsin. These actions came against the backdrop of repeated claims, in the legal recount process and in the courts, that, in fact, election officials successfully and accurately administered the 2020 election. Recounts in Dane and Milwaukee Counties, requested by Donald Trump as the losing candidate, produced only one 87 voice shift – in favor of President Biden.

Moreover, what is happening in Wisconsin and elsewhere is a classic and deeply destructive case of what will happen – if the Republicans manage to tip the scales of the game, they will not be able to govern because the Democrats in turn cannot. will not believe the election results.

This vicious cycle does not have good results.

Our bipartisan concern for defending the concept of pro-led rather than pol-led elections dates back to our work on the Presidential Commission on the Administration of Elections. President Obama has appointed us, a Democrat and a Republican, to co-chair the commission to review the state of electoral administration in the United States and make recommendations to remove barriers to voting for all eligible voters. For a year, the commission met with election officials across the country to consider non-partisan measures to help them run the well-run elections voters deserve.

In public testimony and in dialogue with these officials, we were impressed with the way they discharge their responsibilities, usually with limited resources. the Commission final report noted that these “officials find themselves guessed and heavily criticized when elections run into trouble, and praise is not received in comparable volume – or not at all – when the process goes smoothly.” And he stressed that “During the months of its preparation of this report, the commission has come to a renewed appreciation of how the vast majority of the country’s electoral officials are working hard, diligently and effectively to organize well-organized elections. for voters – and how hard the job is.

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Law enforcement personnel and other public officials who abuse their positions for partisan political gain should remember: they cannot engage in this kind of conduct with impunity.

Prosecutors are subject to specific disciplinary rules which prohibit the prosecution of baseless charges. Wisconsin law provides separately for victims of malicious prosecution with legal remedies. And public officials are responsible under the Legislative Assembly’s Code of Ethics which states that “high moral and ethical standards … are essential to the conduct of free government.”

Politically motivated harassment and threats against public officials in the performance of their duties clearly violate these standards.

A sure sign of a downward spiral will be any attempt to deprive election officials and their teams of lawyers who they believe are acting only in their best interests. We will actively oppose such interference with the right to a lawyer. The network’s goal is to ensure that election officials and their staff have lawyers they can trust.

Our states and local communities, as well as our democracy, owe a deep debt of gratitude to professional election administrators. Right now, they need and deserve support to defend themselves against attacks on the work so vital to our country. The network is ready to do its part.

Bob Bauer served as White House legal counsel during the Obama administration and is a professor at New York University School of Law. Ben Ginsberg practiced electoral law for 38 years representing Republican candidates and parties. He is Distinguished Visiting Fellow at Stanford’s Hoover Institution and lecturer at Stanford Law School.


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