Florida Republicans to Bar Free Legal Help for Election Officials

Photo credit: AP

Legislation that Florida’s Republican-controlled Legislature passed this month and is expected to be signed into law by GOP Gov. Ron DeSantis envisages cutting off free legal assistance to election officials which, as critics argue, amounts to a ban on pro-bono legal help for election officials.

The recently approved bill, which has alarmed legal advocates defending Florida election workers from threats, harassment, and punishing new laws, would include the costs of any litigation related to election administration, virtually extending an existing ban on private donations to help run elections.

It also envisages creating a new elections police force – with broad powers- tasked with investigating potential wrongdoing in the state, including election officials’ conduct.

Opponents of the first-of-its-kind Florida move worry the idea to prevent election officials from getting free legal assistance will spread to other states at a time when the private funding of election functions is targeted by the Republican-led states.

David Becker, a former Justice Department official, stressed that due process is a cornerstone of the US democracy and that it’s blatantly un-American by any measure to be criminally targeted for prosecution but not represented by a lawyer that you like and that is willing to represent you pro bono.

Becker helps oversee the Election Official Legal Defense Network, which was launched last September to connect election officials with free legal assistance. He underscored that the requests for free legal help are ongoing and come in from all over the country but refused to say how many election officials have sought since help, citing privacy concerns.

Bryan Griffin, the spokesman for Gov. DeSantis who signed last year a sweeping elections bill that included a ban on private money funding election administration, noted that limiting private funds ensures the total impartiality of election officials in Florida, including elections’ supervisors.

The newest addition to the bill, which includes preventing funding or favors from outside entities that could affect the impartiality of election officials, would include litigation to that ban.

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