News broke this week that Cleta Mitchell, a lawyer who helped former President Donald Trump in his efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election, has been named to the Board of Advisors of the federal Election Assistance Commission, which advises state election officials on voting guidelines and procedures.
The appointment of Mitchell has been met with alarm from voting rights advocates. Mitchell, a prominent right-wing Republican lawyer, actively promoted Trump’s false claims about fraud and a stolen election and advised the Trump campaign in its efforts to overturn the results. She participated in the notorious call on which Trump badgered the Georgia secretary of state to “find” the votes that would give the victory to Trump. RWW reported that Mitchell signed a Dec. 30 letter from right-wing movement leaders urging Senate Republicans to “protect the republic” by contesting Electoral College votes from battleground states won by Biden.
Mitchell is also supporting Trump’s efforts to elect state election officials who accept his false claims about the stolen election.
RWW reported earlier this year that Mitchell is at the center of multiple right-wing “election integrity” efforts being promoted by FreedomWorks and the Conservative Partnership Institute since Trump’s defeat with the goal of passing more restrictive voting legislation at the state level. She reportedly steered at least $1 million to the bogus Arizona “audit” promoted by so-called Stop the Steal activists and funded by Trump loyalists.
Mitchell has called HR1, federal voting rights legislation being considered by Congress this year, an attempt to rig elections in Democrats’ favor and urged conservative activists to “hammer” senators to vote against it. Her legal clients have included former White House adviser Steve Bannon and right-wing pro-voter-suppression group True the Vote.
It is not clear how much of an impact Mitchell’s appointment will have on U.S. election systems, but it gives her an inside platform from which to press for implementation of the same right-wing policies on “election integrity” that she advocates for as an activist and attorney. The U.S. Election Assistance Commission describes itself as “an independent, bipartisan commission” charged with helping election officials meet the requirements of the Help America Vote Act of 2002. The advisory board to which Mitchell has been appointed does not make policy, but it does advise the EAC and reviews voluntary voting system guidelines and best practices.
Mitchell’s appointment to the 35-member EAC board of advisers came about through a convoluted process described in a Nov. 16 statement from the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. The advisory board is made up of people representing a variety of groups, including the National Governors Association, National Conference of State Legislatures, National Association of Secretaries of State, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, and more. As the civil rights commission statement explained the process by which Mitchell was named, she was one of two people nominated by Republican members of the commission, and she was the one of those two chosen by the commission’s Democratic members and then ratified by a majority vote of the commission.
In an interview with CNN, Michael Yaki, a Democratic member of the commission, described voting for Mitchell as “the lesser of two great evils.” The commission’s other choice was J. Christian Adams, who was appointed to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights by Donald Trump in August 2020. Yaki told CNN that Adams led his fellow conservative commissioners in holding the “entire agenda of the Commission hostage” until they were empowered to name someone to the election board.
Adams is a promoter of more restrictive voting laws who served on Trump’s short-lived sham of an “election integrity commission,” which folded in 2018 after it found no evidence to support claims of widespread voter fraud. The Atlantic’s Andrew Cohen once described Adams as “a longtime conservative critic of many facets of the Voting Rights Act, whose claim to fame as a federal lawyer seems to be his penchant for accusing black people of discriminating against whites.” During the Obama administration, Adams was a favored speaker at right-wing events, where he slammed the Justice Department and charged that the DOJ’s civil rights division was filled with “rancid, rotted, corrupt racialists.”