Giuliani Defamation Lawsuit Shows Challenges Faced by Poll Workers
WASHINGTON — A federal judge in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday declined to dismiss a defamation lawsuit against Rudy Giuliani by two Georgia women who counted ballots in 2020.
They say the former New York mayor and attorney for Donald Trump falsely accused them of trying to cheat on the vote count.
Disputes in other states over how election workers do their jobs have gained prominence in the days before the Nov. 8 midterm election this year as a result of lingering fraud allegations after the 2020 presidential campaign.
The FBI warned state election officials last month to be more prepared for disruptions this year than in the past.
In Wisconsin, election workers are training for how to handle possible violence after the polls open Nov. 8.
In Ohio, the city of Akron passed a law requiring a minimum of three days in jail for threatening election workers.
In the defamation lawsuit, Giuliani accused the mother-daughter workers of submitting illegal ballots they had stuffed in suitcases in an attempt to sway the tight 2020 Georgia race in favor of Joe Biden. They were counting absentee ballots at the State Farm Arena in Atlanta, Georgia.
Giuliani claimed in his motion to dismiss the lawsuit that his allegations were protected as First Amendment free speech.
U.S. District Judge Beryl A. Howell disagreed, saying in her 25-page order that because Giuliani accused Ruby Freeman and Wandrea “Shaye” Moss of criminal activity despite never having been convicted, he could not claim free speech as a legal protection.
Giuliani made the accusations on podcasts, as a guest on cable network One America News and during testimony he gave to a Georgia state Senate committee investigating the 2020 election.
“I mean, it’s obvious to anyone who’s a criminal investigator or prosecutor that they are engaged in surreptitious, illegal activity,” Giuliani said in his testimony. “And they’re still walking around Georgia. They should have been questioned already. Their homes should have been searched for evidence.”
He based his allegations partly on surveillance video showing the poll workers pulling out a box from under a table containing what Giuliani said were thousands of ballots favoring Biden. He said they scanned them through tabulating machines multiple times to raise the vote count for Biden.
Freeman and Moss denied any improprieties.
Giuliani said other surveillance video from the arena showed Freeman and Moss exchanging USB memory sticks “as if they’re vials of cocaine” but that they contained a fraudulent vote count.
Later evidence showed the mother and daughter were exchanging a ginger mint, not a memory stick.
Moss supervised her county’s absentee ballot operation and worked for its elections department for nine years. Freeman is Moss’ mother and was a temporary election worker who verified signatures on absentee ballots before they were counted and processed.
Giuliani said in response to their lawsuit that he was expressing only his opinion, not legal allegations that were defamatory.
The judge was unconvinced Giuliani’s explanation was adequate to dismiss the lawsuit against him, writing, “Even if Giuliani made clear that his statements were his own subjective views, those statements still included accusations of election fraud that can be verified as true or false.”
Regardless of who wins the lawsuit, poll workers elsewhere are preparing for a continuing backlash from conspiracy theorists.
In Washington state, a new law took effect in June that makes it a felony to threaten election workers online. At least one election worker already reported receiving threats.
The Akron, Ohio, law that took effect last month allows jail terms against anyone who harasses, intimidates or abuses election workers and officials.
The election worker training in Wisconsin includes a segment on how to respond to active shooters. Police conducting the training say they are trying to balance a need for awareness against the risk of frightening election workers away.
The Giuliani defamation lawsuit is Freeman et al. v. Giuliani in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.
Tom can be reached at email@example.com and @TomRamstack
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