But election watchdog groups and legal experts say many of these recruits are answering the RNC’s call because they falsely believe fraud was committed in the 2020 election, so installing them as the supposedly unbiased officials who oversee voting at the precinct level could create chaos in such heavily Democratic precincts.
“This is completely unprecedented in the history of American elections that a political party would be working at this granular level to put a network together,” said Nick Penniman, founder and CEO of Issue One, an election watchdog group. “It looks like now the Trump forces are going directly after the legal system itself and that should concern everyone.”
Penniman also expressed concern about the quick-strike networks of lawyers and DAs being created, suggesting that politically motivated poll workers could simply initiate a legal conflict at the polling place that disrupts voting and then use it as a vehicle for rejecting vote counts from that precinct.
Democratic National Committee spokesperson Ammar Moussa said the DNC “trains poll watchers to help every eligible voter cast a ballot,” but neither the DNC nor the state party trains poll workers. The DNC did help recruit poll workers in 2020 due to a drop-off in older workers amid the pandemic; but he says it is not currently doing so and has never trained poll workers to contest votes.
On the tapes, some of the would-be poll workers lamented that fraud was committed in 2020 and that the election was “corrupt.” Installing party loyalists on the Board of Canvassers, which is responsible for certifying the election, also appears to be part of the GOP strategy. In Wayne County, which includes Detroit, Republicans nominated to their board a man who said he would not have certified the 2020 election.
Both Penniman and Rick Hasen, a law and political science professor at the University of California, Irvine School of Law, said they see a domino effect that could sow doubts about the election even when there was no original infraction: A politically motivated poll worker connecting with a zealous local lawyer to disrupt voting, followed by a challenge to the Board of Canvassers that may have nothing to do with the underlying dispute but merely the level of disruption at the polling place.
“You shouldn’t have poll workers who are reporting to political organizations what they see,” Hasen said. “It creates the potential for mucking things up at polling places and potentially leading to delays or disenfranchisement of voters,” especially “if [the poll workers] come in with the attitude that something is crooked with how elections are run.”
‘The precinct strategy’
The recordings are among the first windows into what former Trump strategist Stephen Bannon, who’s been urging listeners to his podcast to take on election leadership positions, calls “the precinct strategy.”
But Penniman, the election watchdog, believes the strategy is designed to create enough disputes to justify intervention by GOP-controlled state legislatures, who declined to take such steps in 2020.
“Come election day you create massive failure of certification” in Democratic precincts, Penniman said. “The real hope is that you can throw the choosing of electors to state legislatures.”
Participants in the recorded training sessions said their goal is to root out fraud, not just achieve more Republican poll workers in majority Democratic precincts.
Among panelists at a May 14 “Election Integrity” summit in Detroit was Jacky Eubanks, a Trump-endorsed state house candidate who warned “kids my age who are communists do and will staff our elections” in urging Republicans to become “paid, full-time elections workers” to police absentee ballot signatures, according to a recording of the summit.
Speaking separately to Macomb County Republicans, Eubanks also recently said, “The election system is rigged, and who best to steal it but our clerks.”
During the May 14 election-integrity summit, Seifried said the party is now actively recruiting lawyers and that he wanted to “start reaching out to law enforcement.”
Patrick Colbeck, a former member of the Michigan state Senate and former gubernatorial candidate, said at the same summit that he is “working with another organization right now” on “developing a kit for law enforcement” because many don’t understand election law and it will give them “tools that identify and enforce election fraud more effectively.”
Eubanks did not respond to requests for comment. In an email to POLITICO, Colbeck said there should be “regular training” for law enforcement on election laws.
A focus on Michigan
A central theater for the party’s “election integrity” organizing, Michigan is among a number of battleground states where party loyalists are being groomed to serve as inspectors in the next presidential election. Seifried estimated the RNC is committing $35 million to election integrity efforts nationwide, similar to what it spent in the last cycle in battleground state efforts. He is one of 16 state directors.
For decades, the RNC was barred from so-called “ballot security” measures after it settled an early 1980s case in which it was accused of voter suppression in violation of the Voting Rights Act, including sending armed police officers off duty to polling places in minority areas. In 2018, a federal judge allowed that consent decree to expire.
“The 2020 election would have been the first year that the RNC could have done anything with election integrity,” said Seifried in the tapes.
Of all former President Donald Trump’s battleground-state allies, Republican operatives in the state of Michigan came the closest to throwing the 2020 election — and the nation — into a constitutional crisis. So many volunteer challengers overwhelmed Detroit’s TCF Center, where votes were being counted, that police intervened because Covid safety protocols had been breached.
The poll watchers accused poll workers of “bullying” them and blocking them from voting tables due to pandemic social distancing requirements. They also falsely alleged “phony ballots” were smuggled into the center, helping lay the predicate for a weeks-long delay in certifying the state’s electoral votes. That’s despite the fact that then-Democratic candidate Joe Biden had won the state by more than 154,000 votes.
In the recorded meeting with activists in March, Seifried said there “was a lot of disorganization, a lot of lack of preparedness and I’ve heard horror story after horror story,” referring to the GOP watchers barred by police due to Covid restrictions.
“We’re going to have lawyers that work to build relationships with different judges so that when that happens, we’re going to have lawyers that have relationships with the police chiefs in the different areas, with the police officers in the different areas so that when that happens with preexisting relationships already established so that they can’t lie,” Seifried said during an October 2021 training session in Oakland County.
A GOP-led committee found no evidence of widespread fraud in Michigan’s 2020 election and recommended the state’s attorney general investigate those who made false claims “to raise money or publicity for their own ends.” Numerous lawsuits were dismissed in court.
In the tapes, Seifried cites specific grievances from 2020: that “unsolicited” absentee ballots were mailed by the Secretary of State, that not all clerks were required to match signatures on absentee ballot applications, that the number of ballot drop-off locations were dramatically increased and that Democratic areas received more outside funding to increase voting access than Republican areas.
‘How to Challenge a Voter’
In 2022 and 2024, instead of untrained volunteers, the goal is for GOP recruits to have undergone training and be equipped with new tools, according to Seifried.
Before sharing a slide on “How to Challenge a Voter,” Seifried outlined a series of scenarios under which recruits could contest voters or voting processes, though he cautioned it is illegal to challenge every vote.
“You have to have good reason to believe that an individual is not a citizen, that an individual is not of legal voting age. If an individual does not live at the location that they’re registered at, or if the person is not registered at all,” he said during a March 2022 meeting.