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Elections expert launches ‘Safeguarding Democracy’ project

A leading elections expert is launching a project at UCLA School of Law to promote democratic norms and “free and fair” elections in the U.S.

Rick Hasen, a professor at UCLA’s law school and one of the most prominent election law commentators in the country, is launching the “Safeguarding Democracy Project” on Thursday. The project, which was shared first with POLITICO, was launched in part as a response to efforts to undermine confidence in U.S. elections by former President Donald Trump and his allies, including calls to “decertify” the 2020 election.

The project will be advised by a number of well-known attorneys, legal experts and activists. The advisory board includes former federal Judge J. Michael Luttig, who testified last month before the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 insurrection; Janai S. Nelson, president and director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund; and Alex Stamos, the former chief security officer at Facebook who is now the director of the Stanford Internet Observatory, among others.

“The insurrection at the US Capitol on January 6, 2021, brought on by false claims about the 2020 presidential election, was the opening salvo of a concerted effort to subvert our electoral system,” Hasen said in a statement. “The Safeguarding Democracy Project will use an all-hands-on-deck approach to address and challenge these threats to our democracy, working to ensure that all eligible voters can freely cast their vote, that those votes will be fairly and accurately counted, and that the election winners will undergo a peaceful transfer of power.”

Other well known members of the advisory board include Bob Bauer, former White House counsel to then-President Barack Obama; Ben Ginsberg, a prominent Republican elections attorney; University of Michigan law professor Leah Litman and former NPR reporter Pam Fessler.

One of the project’s first events will be a late September conversation with reporters covering the Supreme Court on the court’s “role in preserving American democracy,” along with a roundtable with election experts about the “independent state legislature” theory.

The Supreme Court announced last week that it would hear a case arguing that doctrine, a controversial legal theory recently pushed by Republican election attorneys arguing that state legislatures have wide latitude to set rules around elections, with limited or no role for state courts.

Election experts, including Hasan, have argued that a validation of that theory by nation’s high court would give state-level legislative leaders near unchecked ability to skew political maps and change election laws.

The UCLA project is also planning a symposium for early 2023 titled “Can American Democracy Survive the 2024 Elections?”