The Trumpian effort to steal the 2022 election is not just recruiting secretaries of states who will manipulate laws and votes, it's giving those criminals and traitors cover with an army of "election observers" at polling stations who will challenge, harass, and intimidate anyone they believe is voting Democratic, legally or "illegally".
In a hotel conference center outside Harrisburg, Pa., Cleta Mitchell, one of the key figures in a failed scheme to overturn Donald J. Trump’s defeat, was leading a seminar on “election integrity.”
“We are taking the lessons we learned in 2020 and we are going forward to make sure they never happen again,” Ms. Mitchell told the crowd of about 150 activists-in-training.
She would be “putting you to work,” she told them.
In the days after the 2020 election, Ms. Mitchell was among a cadre of Republican lawyers who frantically compiled unsubstantiated accusations, debunked claims and an array of confusing and inconclusive eyewitness reports to build the case that the election was marred by fraud. Courts rejected the cases and election officials were unconvinced, thwarting a stunning assault on the transfer of power.
Now Ms. Mitchell is prepping for the next election. Working with a well-funded network of organizations on the right, including the Republican National Committee, she is recruiting election conspiracists into an organized cavalry of activists monitoring elections.
In seminars around the country, Ms. Mitchell is marshaling volunteers to stake out election offices, file information requests, monitor voting, work at polling places and keep detailed records of their work. She has tapped into a network of grass-root groups that promote misinformation and espouse wild theories about the 2020 election, including the fiction that President Biden’s victory could still be decertified and Mr. Trump reinstated.
One concern is the group’s intent to research the backgrounds of local and state officials to determine whether each is a “friend or foe” of the movement. Many officials already feel under attack by those who falsely contend that the 2020 election was stolen.
An extensive review of Ms. Mitchell’s effort, including documents and social media posts, interviews and attendance at the Harrisburg seminar, reveals a loose network of influential groups and fringe figures. They include election deniers as well as mainstream organizations such as the Heritage Foundation’s political affiliate, Tea Party Patriots and the R.N.C., which has participated in Ms. Mitchell’s seminars. The effort, called the Election Integrity Network, is a project of the Conservative Partnership Institute, a right-wing think tank with close ties and financial backing from Mr. Trump’s political operation.
Ms. Mitchell says she is creating “a volunteer army of citizens” who can counter what she describes as Democratic bias in election offices.
“We’re going to be watching. We’re going to take back our elections,” she said in an April interview with John Fredericks, a conservative radio host. “The only way they win is to cheat,” she added.
The claim that Mr. Trump lost the election because of improper conduct in election offices or rampant voter fraud is false. Mr. Trump’s defeat was undisputed among election officials and certified by Democrats and Republicans, with many recounts and audits verifying the outcome. Mr. Trump’s Justice Department found no evidence of widespread fraud. Mr. Trump lost more than 50 of his postelection challenges in court.
Campaigns, parties and outside groups from both sides of the political spectrum regularly form poll-monitoring operations and recruit poll workers. And Republicans have in the past boasted of plans to build an “army” of observers, raising fears about widespread voter intimidation and conflict at the polls that largely have not materialized.
Some former election officials say they are hopeful that when election skeptics observe the process they may finally be convinced that the system is sound. But several who examined Ms. Mitchell’s training materials and statements at the request of The New York Times sounded alarms about her tactics.
Ms. Mitchell’s trainings promote particularly aggressive methods — with a focus on surveillance — that appear intended to feed on activists’ distrust and create pressure on local officials, rather than ensure voters’ access to the ballot, they say. A test drive of the strategy in the Virginia governor’s race last year highlighted how quickly the work — when conducted by people convinced of falsehoods about fraud — can disrupt the process and spiral into bogus claims, even in a race Republicans won.
“I think it’s going to come down to whether they are truly interested in knowing the truth about elections or they’re interested in propagating propaganda,” said Al Schmidt, a Republican and former city commissioner of Philadelphia who served on the elections board.
Asked about her project at the Pennsylvania training, Ms. Mitchell declined an interview request and asked a reporter to leave.
In a statement emailed later, she said: “The American election system envisions citizen engagement and we are training people to assume the roles outlined in the statutes.”
The goal here is to flood the zone with bullshit "voter fraud" claims, then scream whenever the fraud claims aren't proven. There's a reason why Republicans want to get rid of all non-Election Day, in-person voting, so that all voters can be "screened" by this army of voter intimidation drones.
2022 is the test run for a much larger effort in 2024.
Count on that.