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February 19, 2024 Task Force for American Democracy

Listening tour events kick off in Georgia

The American Bar Association’s Task Force for American Democracy launched its series of listening tour stops with an event in Atlanta on Feb. 13 at the Bar Center of the State Bar of Georiga.

The ABA hosted “Taking the Next Step: Ensuring Trusted Elections and Civics for Georgians,” a discussion on election integrity issues.

The ABA hosted “Taking the Next Step: Ensuring Trusted Elections and Civics for Georgians,” a discussion on election integrity issues.

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The event, called “Taking the Next Step: Ensuring Trusted Elections and Civics for Georgians,” featured local leaders, legal scholars and election officials who addressed vital election integrity issues, the need to support poll workers and the state of democracy in America.

ABA President Mary Smith made opening remarks and noted the difference in society compared to years ago when a crisis occurred. “Everyone pulled together then,” she said. “We’re not seeing that now.”

Smith was followed by former federal judge and co-chair of the task force, J. Michael Luttig, who stated that “democracy and the rule of law is in grave peril.” He claimed the only way out of this situation was to listen to the American people, then to act. He said lawyers and the ABA were “uniquely positioned, uniquely qualified and uniquely obligated” to participate.

“This is the Super Bowl of American democracy,” Luttig said. “And every one of us is on the field.”

Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, who famously refused to “find” extra votes for President Donald Trump in 2020, addressed the crowd and touted the quality of the election process in his state. He talked about how confidence in the process leads to participation. “Trust is the gold standard that brings society together,” he said.

The first panel discussion – “What to Expect in 2024: Nuts and Bolts of Georgia Election Administration” – brought together election officials from around the state of Georgia to discuss their jobs, their successes and the roadblocks to putting on an election.

Panelist Blake Evans, director of elections for the Georgia Secretary of State Elections Division, was frustrated by the pervasiveness of misinformation and advised “always get your information from your local or state election official.”

The panel also praised volunteer poll workers who make the system work and have been under unfair attacks. They called on all lawyers to consider volunteering as poll workers. “I can’t imagine a better poll worker than a lawyer,” Judge Jonathan Fordham, elections superintendent of Bleckley County, stated.

Panel moderator David Becker, the executive director of the Center for Election Innovation and Research, called the recent Georgia elections the “most secure ever” and said election officials and volunteer poll workers deserve the credit. “They should have thrown them a parade,” he said. “Instead, they were attacked and harassed.”

During the second panel – “A Conversation on Democracy: How it Affects Us All” – participants brought up concerns about the state of democracy in the U.S., but also expressed confidence in institutions that have protected it.

Carly Fiorina, national honorary chair of the Virginia 250 Commission, said “Americans are like fish. Fish don’t know they are swimming in water. They take it for granted. Americans take democracy for granted.”

Jason Carter, a partner at Bondurant, Mixson, and Elmore, LLP, former Georgia state senator and grandson of former president Jimmy Carter, talked about observing elections around the world and what they all have in common.

“People desire faith in the process,” Carter said. “It needs to be built and maintained and if it’s lost, it’s incredibly hard to rebuild.” He added that America’s institutions, especially the judicial system and the military, held when they were tested in recent years.

The panel discussed the problems with political parties, dark money in politics, threats against officials who stand up for the rule of law and the media’s role in dealing with false narratives.

Former ABA President and vice-chair of the task force Bill Ide closed the program with a call to action for lawyers. He talked about the “Georgia way” and how that entailed working through problems with people with whom you disagree in a civil manner.

He called on lawyers to volunteer and for all citizens to get involved. “It’s time we all learn up, speak out and act out,” he said.

The next listening tour stop is scheduled for Detroit on March 15.

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