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Voters wait in line

People wait in line outside a polling place at the start of early voting on October 25, 2022 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. (Photo: Scott Olson/Getty Images)

'Cold Hard Threat to Democracy': GOP Sowing Chaos at Polls Even Before Election Day

"Voters deserve better than this when they exercise their constitutional right at the polls," said one government watchdog.

Julia Conley

Government watchdogs are warning that Republican are operating a well-funded, well-organized campaign to sow "an unprecedented level of suspicion and unfounded doubt" in this year's midterm elections by lodging dubious legal challenges even before Election Day arrives and training thousands on how to create confusion at the polls.

As the Associated Press reported Thursday, more than 100 lawsuits have already been filed regarding the election, which is still 12 days away. The lawsuits have largely been filed by Republicans and focus on issues including mail-in voting, voting machines, and access for partisan poll watchers.

"One party openly encouraging voter intimidation is not the sign of a healthy, thriving democracy."

The voting rights group Democracy Docket reported last month that as of September 16, Republican groups had filed 41 lawsuits, compared with a total of seven in 2021.

Twenty-two of the challenges sought to limit mail-in voting, four centered on limiting voter registration, and 12 focused on election administration, including "conspiracy-led challenges against voting machines," according to Democracy Docket.

The use of voting machines was the focus of some of the roughly 60 lawsuits filed by former President Donald Trump and his allies in 2020 claiming President Joe Biden's election victory was fraudulent. All of the legal challenges were ultimately rejected and experts found the election to be the most secure in U.S. history.

While legal teams are challenging the upcoming election in court, the Republican National Committee (RNC) is furthering the party's false claims that the voting system is rife with fraud by establishing what Chair Ronna McDaniel called "an unprecedented election integrity ground game to ensure that November’s midterm elections are free, fair and transparent."

The RNC has held more than 5,000 sessions in recent months to train tens of thousands of volunteers to spot "voter fraud," which is exceedingly rare according to an analysis by the Brennan Center for Justice.

"Republicans are going to 'challenge' (i.e., refuse to accept the results of) any election they lose from now on," tweeted journalist David Roberts this week. "I'd love for anyone to explain to me how democracy can survive under such conditions."

In one poll watcher recruitment campaign, prominent allies of former President Donald Trump including former national security adviser Michael Flynn have used images of war alongside false claims that the 2020 election was stolen to urge former military members to help "beat the cheat" in key battleground states.

In Michigan, one group is calling its poll watching effort "Operation Overwatch" and has warned residents, "If you are someone who seeks to cast a vote illegally, we are watching."

Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, a Democrat, told The Washington Post on Tuesday that her office has advised law enforcement that police should be prepared to get to polling places within minutes if voter intimidation or violence is reported.

"We know there's certainly more activity this year than we saw in 2020 to place people either as observers, challengers, or poll workers who have been trained through misinformation and potentially having been told to disrupt the process,” Benson said. "So we're preparing for that."

The Post reported that in at least some cases, local Republican leaders appear to be specifically recruiting people who doubt the results of the 2020 election.

In Colorado, El Paso County Republican Chair Vickie Tonkins, who has promoted false claims that Trump was the true winner in 2020, clashed with at least three Republican volunteers and revoked their appointments.

"We haven't jumped on her election denier bandwagon," Brenda Conrad, one of the dismissed volunteers, told the Post.

David Becker, executive director of the Center for Election Innovation and Research in Washington, D.C., warned that the presence of even a small number of volunteers who are operating based on misinformation about the 2020 election could cause chaos on Election Day.

"The problems don't need to be in a thousand polling places," Becker told the Post. "If there's a violent incident in one polling place, that's enough, because the election deniers have been pouring gasoline all over the country, and it just takes one match."

CREW denounced the Republican Party's call for thousands of Americans to be prepared to question the election results as "a cold hard threat to democracy."

"One party openly encouraging voter intimidation is not the sign of a healthy, thriving democracy," said the group. "This is incredibly concerning. Voters deserve better than this when they exercise their constitutional right at the polls."

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