RNC launching massive effort to monitor voting

BLOOMFIELD HILLS, Mich. — The Republican National Committee on Friday launched a swing state initiative to mobilize thousands of polling place monitors, poll workers and attorneys to serve as “election integrity” watchdogs in November — an effort that immediately drew concerns that it could lead to harassment of election workers and undermine trust in the vote.

The RNC says its plan will help voters have faith in the electoral process and ensure their votes matter. Yet, as former President Donald Trump and his allies continue to spread false claims that the 2020 election was marred by widespread fraud, the effort also sets the stage for a repeat of Trump’s efforts to undermine the results — a gambit that ultimately led to the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol.

Trump allies already have signaled that they might not accept the results if he loses to President Joe Biden.

The RNC has said its new effort will focus on stopping “Democrat attempts to circumvent the rules.” The party will deploy monitors to observe every step of the election process, create hotlines for poll watchers to report perceived problems and escalate those issues by taking legal action.

The national party says it hopes to recruit 100,000 volunteers — a number some election experts have said would be difficult to achieve even in a high-profile presidential election year.

RNC Chairman Michael Whatley said Friday that the committee will place election integrity directors in 15 states, including the most hotly contested battlegrounds, and work with state parties to set up similar programs in the other states.

“What we need to ensure is integrity in our electoral process,” RNC Co-chair Lara Trump, the former president’s daughter-in-law, said during the kickoff event in Bloomfield Hills, in a suburban county that is crucial for winning Michigan. “We can never go back and repeat 2020, but we can learn the lessons from 2020.”

She said most of the RNC is currently focused on the committee’s election integrity program, which she called “one of its kind.”

Both parties have a long history of organizing supporters to serve as poll monitors, and the Democratic National Committee said it plans its own volunteer recruitment effort. Several election officials in presidential swing states said they feel this kind of transparency and engagement is one of the best ways to help skeptics feel confident in the many safeguards baked into the election process.

Yet the language surrounding the RNC’s effort and how it’s being implemented could present broader concerns should it evolve beyond normal political party organizing, said David Becker, a former U.S. Justice Department lawyer who serves as executive director of the Center for Election Innovation and Research.

“To do it in a way that feeds your voters with the idea that the election is going to be stolen, that prepares them to be angry if their candidate loses — that can be very dangerous,” Becker said.

Trump pushed false claims of election fraud in 2016 and 2020 and has continued to predict a rigged election if he loses this year. During a rally in Las Vegas on Sunday, he said of Democrats, “The only way they can beat us is to cheat.”

“Don’t let them cheat,” he said. “Don’t let them do anything.”

RNC leadership — which Trump handpicked in a major overhaul of the committee earlier this year — has followed his lead in forecasting the potential for foul play in this year’s election. Lara Trump qualified her answer on CNN earlier this month when asked if she’d accept the results.

“I can tell you, yes, we will accept the results of this election if we feel that it is free, fair and transparent,” she said. “And we are working overtime to ensure that indeed that happens.”

Asked Friday whether the committee planned to challenge the election certification process in any swing states Trump might narrowly lose, Whatley said, “We’re not going to cross any of those bridges right now.”

For decades, the RNC was limited in its ability to coordinate poll watching and other election integrity activities by a federal court consent decree established to stop Republican-backed voter intimidation efforts. The decree was lifted in 2018.

The launch of the RNC initiative comes as the GOP faces a significant disadvantage compared to Democrats in traditional political infrastructure on the ground in key states, such as campaign offices, community centers and canvassers. Biden’s campaign and his allies on the Democratic National Committee have opened hundreds of campaign offices nationwide, while Republican officials in many cases are still waiting for the Trump campaign and the RNC to engage.

DNC spokesperson Alex Floyd said the DNC, “alongside our partners at the state and local level, won’t let MAGA Republicans get away with these baseless attacks on our democracy, and we will continue to use every tool at our disposal to ensure that all Americans can make their voice heard at the ballot box.”

The RNC’s kickoff event took place at the headquarters of the Oakland County GOP, one of Michigan’s most influential local parties. Oakland County is an affluent Detroit suburb that for decades was one of Michigan’s premier bellwether counties.

While the county holds the largest number of Republican voters in the state, it has shifted increasingly Democratic in recent years, and Donald Trump has lost the county in both of his previous campaigns.

The RNC has focused many of its challenges ahead of the election in Michigan, a state Trump narrowly won in 2016 but lost to Biden in 2020. A review by Republican lawmakers found there was no widespread fraud in that year’s election and that Biden legitimately won the state. That aligns with reviews, recounts and audits in the other battleground states where Trump disputed his loss, all of which affirmed Biden’s victory.

Despite those facts, conspiracy theories about voting and election fraud erupted in Detroit, the state’s most populous city, when poll watchers and challengers grew confrontational at the city’s downtown convention center where ballots were brought and counted.

On Friday, Detroit City Clerk Janice Winfrey called that behavior unacceptable four years ago and said there won’t be a repeat this year.

“You weren’t successful when we didn’t expect you in 2020. Now that we expect you, well, I’m not concerned at all,” she told the AP on Friday. “Detroiters don’t play. We’re tired of being picked on.”

She said the state’s new law allowing one poll watcher per eight poll workers will be enforced by federal agents and state and local law enforcement.

After Friday’s kickoff in Michigan, the RNC’s “Protect Your Vote” tour will hold events in Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Georgia, with more battleground state visits to follow.

Democrats and their allies in those states questioned Republicans’ motives, pointing out that their repeated lies about elections have been a driving force in undermining public trust.

North Carolina state Rep. Allison Dahle, the ranking Democrat on the House election law committee, said Republicans in her state should have focused on giving more resources to the State Board of Elections, including hiring staff, if they were so concerned about discouraging fraud.

“Voters would have more confidence in elections if Republicans stopped lying about them,” said Adam Bonin, a Philadelphia-based lawyer who has represented the Democratic Party and its candidates in high-profile election cases.


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