Ian Bassin

Lawyer and Democracy Advocate Class of 2023
Portrait of Ian Bassin

Working to strengthen the structures, norms, and institutions that make the United States a democracy.

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Washington, District of Columbia
age iconAge
47 at time of award
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About Ian’s Work

Ian Bassin is a lawyer and democracy advocate working to strengthen the structures, norms, and institutions of democratic governance in the United States. He is the executive director of Protect Democracy, an organization he co-founded in 2016 to counter authoritarian tactics and abuses of power that threaten to undermine election integrity and erode the rule of law. The organization works across multiple fronts to safeguard free and fair elections, counter disinformation, and ensure meaningful checks and balances on legislative and executive bodies. Across these areas of work, the group employs tools spanning litigation, legislative reforms, research and analysis, election-monitoring software, and strategic communications.

Bassin champions a nonpartisan, multidisciplinary approach as a key feature of Protect Democracy’s strategies. He enlists staff members and advisors from across the political spectrum to stand together in defense of democratic institutions despite their differences. One of the group’s early projects, the software platform VoteShield, supports election officials by monitoring the integrity of voter registration data. The platform is now operational in 24 states and has been used by both Republican and Democratic election officials. In 2019, Bassin and colleagues assembled the National Task Force on Election Crises to prevent and mitigate a range of election crisis scenarios. This coalition includes experts on election law, national security, cybersecurity, emergency response, voting rights, and transfers of power. In the wake of the 2020 election, the task force proposed a blueprint of reforms to the Electoral Count Act (ECA), which governs the process of casting and counting Electoral College votes. Their proposed reforms would guard against various forms of election subversion by, for example, setting clear limits on the vice president’s and Congress’s ability to object to or challenge Electoral College votes. Protect Democracy held a series of press briefings to help the media, lawmakers, civil society leaders, and the public understand the need for ECA reforms. After two years of advocacy and technical refinements by Protect Democracy and its coalition partners, the majority of the task force’s recommendations were enacted into law in December of 2022.

Bassin and colleagues have also emphasized the importance of truth telling and accountability for deterring future authoritarian abuses. Their work informed the design and practices of the Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the U.S. Capitol and helped ensure that the facts and findings unearthed by the committee were brought to the attention of the American people. Another initiative, the Law for Truth project, uses litigation to stop the spread of false information that sows distrust and distorts public debate. The project has brought a series of defamation lawsuits seeking redress for individuals harmed by disinformation and conspiracy theories surrounding the 2020 U.S. presidential election. Through his strategic leadership of Protect Democracy, Bassin addresses structural vulnerabilities and biases in our democratic systems with the goal of making our institutions more representative and resilient.


Ian Bassin received a BA (1998) from Wesleyan University and a JD (2006) from Yale Law School. Prior to co-founding Protect Democracy in 2016, he served as associate White House counsel (2009–2011) and as deputy counsel in the New York City Mayor’s Office (2014–2015). His writing on democracy, authoritarianism, and American law and politics has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, and The Atlantic, among other publications.

In Ian’s Words

“Democracy is a rare form of government in human history. It is not something that comes about naturally or sustains itself automatically.”

Democracy is a rare form of government in human history. It is not something that comes about naturally or sustains itself automatically. It requires a dedicated people willing to embrace our differences, whose commitment to freedom, equality, and justice motivates us to protect it and perfect it. During times of change and uncertainty, those frustrated by democracy’s imperfections try to tempt us with alternatives. History shows that these alternatives lead to dark places. It’s in these fraught moments that the burden falls most squarely on us to resist these temptations and unite in defense of democracy.

Published on October 4, 2023

Photos of Ian Bassin

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