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Lis Frost speaks on election law, threats to voting rights and the importance of voter engagement

Last Friday’s convocation, given by voting rights-focused lawyer Lis Frost, centered around election litigation and pressing threats to our right to vote. Through her talk, Frost guided her audience through her journey into a career in election litigation, while highlighting potent threats to voting rights and why students should care about voting.

Frost was initially uninterested in a law career. She spoke of how her younger self — an  English major who loved to read and write — would never have suspected her future career would be in litigation. Nevertheless, Frost had a particular interest in systems of policy and particularly those that disproportionately affect specific groups of people. 

This interest led her to help her uncle, a criminal attorney, in a juvenile case. The work spoke to her, and she ended up getting a criminal investigator license. However, she ultimately found that she wanted a good civics education for the purpose of properly addressing systemic inequity.

During an internship with the House of Representatives in her home state, she was surprised by how much of the law came from phone calls from constituents. She realized that engagement from the common citizen, and voting in particular, was  “the gateway right.” Frost described the importance of voting: “without it, all other rights are illusory.”

With that, Frost decided to go into voting law and election litigation, even though that field was just beginning to expand. She is now the litigation chair of Elias Law Group, the nation’s largest democracy-focused law firm.

Frost recalled a piece of advice a professor had told her that guided her through her career: “if your first job is your last job, or even an obvious stepping stone to that last job, it probably won’t be your right job.”

The election litigation field practically didn’t exist before she stepped into it; if she had tried to completely plan out her life, she likely never would have entered the unique practice that she did. Though her journey through English, criminal investigation and eventually election law was nonlinear, Frost emphasized that the skills she gained in her education were crucial to her current career, and that she uses them every day.

Frost spoke of her time in election law during the tumultuous 2020 election. She pointed to the rhetoric claiming election fraud is rampant and that mail-in voting exacerbates it because of an alleged lack of security. This rhetoric rose along with the rapid rise in mail-in voting during the pandemic. Frost stressed that many of the systems to detect fraud, which are implemented in the name of security, actually cause more harm than good. One example is the requirement to match signatures on documents, which she remarked is one of the most common reasons for a ballot to get rejected.“The number of ballots invalidated using signature matching far exceeds any number of fraudulent ballots,” said Frost.

Frost noted that, while she loves mail-in voting, it still poses a problem for voting rights because voters must jump through extra hoops. She said that“voter participation goes down for each complexity,” particularly for the most vulnerable groups. She said that the ballots of marginalized groups were twice or even four times more likely to be thrown away.

In Sep. 2021, she and her colleagues formed Elias Law Group, which has since expanded and now has 35 lawyers. Most of the cases against the 2020 election have been taken by this firm, and they found that many of these lawsuits had little to no evidence behind them. Frost emphasized that “fraud is exceedingly rare” in elections.

Frost claimed that election results can still be influenced by other factors such as voter intimidation, which she argues is an increasing phenomenon in many parts of the country. Additionally, many seemingly harmless laws can make a huge difference. She mentioned a case where 80,000 ballots for the presidential primary postmarked by election day but not received by it , would have been discarded if not for the work done by her firm. Other limits on the power of voters, such as gerrymandering and redistricting, were principal topics among the questions asked during the convocation and the lunch afterward. 

Frost mentioned that even those elections that seem relatively unimportant, such as those for Secretaries of State, can have immense changes to the way voting is approached. She cited how the Florida Secretary of State decided not to put any early voting sites on campuses in 2016, and how the Georgia Secretary of State tried to eliminate runoff voting on the Saturdays after Thanksgiving in 2022. These decisions were eventually challenged and the officials backtracked on them, but they demonstrate how apathy from the public towards these positions of power can lead to a failure of accountability.

Frost claimed many laws subtly targeted those who were unfamiliar with the voting process, such as new voters through small and insidious strategies. These laws have even hit the Carleton community: many ballots from Carleton students have not been counted because they didn’t include the dorm name in their address. She said that once a potential voter has a negative experience with bureaucracy, they become less inclined to try again. In this manner, these laws “threaten to stop the habit of engagement before it starts.”

Frost’s final message was a warning that students should not let their guards down after the drama of the 2020 election. She mentioned that volunteering in election work not only helps facilitate voting rights, but is a great way to get to know the process up close. Frost called on the young voters of Carleton to care about these issues, and most of all, to vote.

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