As 2022’s primaries approach, an unprecedented wave of public and private efforts are underway to foster trust in election operations and election officials in response to ongoing claims by Donald Trump and his supporters, including many officeholders and candidates, that President Joe Biden was not legitimately elected.
Public-facing efforts include creating an election official appreciation day on April 12, a newly launched Election Official Legal Defense Network to counter new Republican-drafted laws that criminalize mistakes in administering elections, and federal lobbying to protect election officials and their families from threats. There also are behind-the-scenes efforts to educate local civic, business and faith leaders so that trusted voices can help to respond to election deniers.
The efforts come as scores of candidates for statewide and local office, including many seeking reelection, have made the unproven claim that Trump’s second term was stolen a key feature of their 2022 campaigns, and, as a supermajority of Republicans—a figure unchanged since late 2020—still believe that Democrats and election insiders stole the presidential election.
“You can’t have 30 percent of the county not believing in elections,” said Benjamin Ginsberg, a veteran Republican Party election lawyer who has spoken out against the “big lie”—Trump’s assertion of victory—and a co-chair of the Election Official Legal Defense Network.
“Where we are really lacking is how we talk to that 30 percent,” he continued, speaking on a March 28 podcast with Sarah Longwell, publisher of the Bulwark, a media outlet featuring Republicans who reject the big lie. “There is a dialog that really has to take place about the election system and how reliable it in fact is… That’s an important conversation that we’re trying to figure out how to have, but haven’t really succeeded yet.”
The comments by Ginsberg, who said he has “spent 30 years doing Election Day operations for Republican Party committees and candidates” and “never” found evidence of Democrats or an election official who rigged the results, underscore both the challenge and, so far, the limited impact of trying to convince Trump’s base that elections are trustworthy and 2020’s results were accurate.
Nonetheless, the efforts to instill confidence and build new guardrails is a departure from more traditional election protection work, where teams of lawyers help voters cast their ballots and sometimes sue to ensure their votes are counted. Those efforts, led nationally by the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, usually focus on the fall’s general elections and not the earlier primaries. Yet the primaries tend to draw the most partisan candidates and voters.