HOUSTON – The red dot of a laser pointer circled downtown Houston on a map during a virtual training of election observers by the Harris County Republican Party. Densely populated, mostly black, Latin American and Asian neighborhoods were highlighted.
“This is where the fraud takes place”, a republican district official said mistakenly in a leaked video of the training that took place in March. As the district chairman in the northeastern, mostly white suburbs of Houston, he said he was trying to recruit people from his area “to have the confidence and courage” to act as an election observer in the encircled areas in the upcoming elections .
A question in the lower corner of the slide indicated how many election observers the party wanted to mobilize: “Can we build a 10K Election Integrity Brigade?”
As Republican lawmakers in large battlefield states seek to make voting more difficult and confusing through a web of new electoral laws, they are simultaneously making a concerted legislative push to allow more autonomy and access to partisan election observers – citizens who are campaigned by an election campaign or a party have been trained and authorized by local electoral officials to monitor the electoral process.
These efforts have alarmed election officials and suffrage activists alike: there has been a long history of using election monitors to intimidate voters and harass election workers, often in ways that target democratic color communities and fuel fears that have the overall effect of voter suppression. During the 2020 election, President Donald J. Trump’s campaign repeatedly boosted the “army” of election observers as he publicly implored supporters to venture into heavily black and Latin American cities to look for election fraud.
Republicans have shown little evidence that election observers need expanded access and autonomy. As with other election changes – including reduced early voting, stricter postal voting requirements, and restrictions on dropboxing – they have based their case on arguments that their voters want safer elections. This wish arose largely from Mr. Trump’s repeated lies about the presidential competition last year, including complaints about inadequate access to election observers.
With disputes over voting rules, there is a risk of rushing to empower election observers to add further tension to the elections.
Both partisan and impartial election observation have been an important part of the American election for years, and Republicans and Democrats have routinely sent trained observers to the election to oversee the process and report any concerns. Over the past few decades, laws have often helped keep aggressive behavior at bay, prevent election observers from getting too close to voters or election officials, and maintain a relatively low threshold for expelling those who misbehave.
But now Republican lawmakers in 20 states have put in at least 40 bills that would expand the powers of election observers, and 12 of those bills in six states are currently being pushed through legislation. according to the Brennan Center for Justice.
In Texas, Republican-controlled legislation is driving legislation that would allow them to photograph and videotape voters in receipt of assistance, and make it extremely difficult for election officials to order the removal of election observers.
The video recording measure has particularly alarmed constituencies arguing that it could result in the unwanted identification of a voter on a video posted on social media or allow isolated incidents to be used by partisan news outlets to create a widespread narrative.
“For example, if you have a situation where people who are election workers are unable to kick someone who is disruptive in the elections or someone who intimidates voters in the elections, this is essentially one Intimidating voters, “he told Jon Greenbaum, chief attorney for the bipartisan civil rights advocate committee.
Republicans have been increasingly open in recent years to their intention of raising legions of supporters to oversee the polls. To paraphrase Mr Trump, they have often framed the observation role in militaristic tones and reinforced their arguments for its necessity with false claims of widespread fraud. Just three years ago the courts did canceled a consent decree that the Republican National Committee was prevented for more than three decades from taking an active role in monitoring polls; In 2020, the committee jumped into practice again.
In Florida, Republicans passed a new electoral law in state law Thursday that includes a provision that allows one election observer per candidate on the ballot paper while voting. The measure has the potential to significantly overcrowd election officials. The bill also does not provide for a distance that election observers must observe from election workers.
In Michigan, a G.O.P. The bill would allow challengers to sit close enough to read election books, tabs and other election papers, and would question a voter’s eligibility to vote if they had “a good reason”.
Republicans’ drive to empower election observers adds to the mounting evidence that much of the party continues to view the 2020 elections from the same perspective as Mr Trump, who has repeatedly argued that his losses in key states were due to fraud have to.
“It seems like the main goal of these laws is to uphold the big lie,” said Dale Ho, director of the voting rights project at A.C.L.U. “So when you get these unsubstantiated allegations that there was fraud or fraud in the elections and people say, ‘Well, that goes unnoticed,” the providers of those lies are saying, “That’s because we’re not in the Were able to observe this. “
After last year’s elections, complaints that election observers had insufficient access or that their allegations of improperly cast ballot papers were ignored led to numerous lawsuits filed by the Trump campaign and its Republican allies, almost all of which failed.
In Texas, the leaked Harris County Republican Party’s education video released by the Common Cause constituency recalled a similar episode from the 2010 mid-term election.
That year, a Tea Party affiliate in Houston known as the King Street Patriots sent election observers to polling stations in downtown Houston. The flood of mostly white observers into the black neighborhoods created friction and resurfaced not-too-distant memories when racial intimidation was the order of the day in the elections in the south.
The King Street Patriots would eventually grow into True the Vote, one of the largest national organizations now seeking more voting restrictions. Last year, True the Vote joined several lawsuits alleging election fraud (all failed) and led nationwide efforts to recruit more election observers.
Election observer access is considered sacred by Republicans in Texas. In the legislature, they cited the difficulty of finding observers for the drive-through voting and the 24-hour voting as one of their reasons for proposing to ban such voting methods.
“Both parties want election monitors, election monitors have to be present,” Republican Bryan Hughes, a Republican who sponsored the Chamber’s version of the bill, said in an interview last month. “That protects everyone.”
While the antagonistic language of the Trump campaign through its election observers was a focal point back in November, Democrats and constituencies fear that loose rules will lead to more reports of aggressive behavior.
In 2020, there were at least 44 reports of inappropriate behavior by election observers in Harris County, according to the New York Times.
At a polling station on the outskirts of Houston, Cindy Wilson, the impartial election officer in charge, reported on two aggressive election observers who she said had disrupted voters and repeatedly challenged staff.
“Two election monitors stood near the black voters (less than three feet away) doing what I call intimidating behavior,” Ms. Wilson wrote in an email to the Harris County clerk through The Times had received open records request.
Ms. Wilson said she was not sure which campaign or party the observers were representing.
Of course, many interactions with election workers went smoothly. Merrilee C. Peterson, an election observer for a local Republican candidate, worked elsewhere, the NRG Arena, and reported no significant tension.
“We still had some problems not believing we could get close enough to see,” she said. “But when the little problems were resolved, we honestly worked very well with the election officials.”
In Florida, the crush was the main concern of election officials.
Florida Supervisors of Elections vice president, Mark Earley, testified to state senators that “we as an association are very concerned” about the number of election observers now allowed to watch the process of duplicating the damaged voter or mislabeled ballot papers. He said it posed “very serious security risks”.
Mr. Earley was assisted by at least one Republican, Senator Jeff Brandes, who believed the provision of election observers was unnecessary and dangerous.
“I don’t think we need to install risers in the supervision of polling stations or bars that they can hang upside down to ensure a transparent process,” Brandes said.
But perhaps no other state has had a conflict where election watchers broke out on cable news like Michigan. On election day and the day after tomorrow in November, Republican election observers at the Detroit TCF Center, where absentee votes were being counted, became increasingly disruptive as it became clear that Mr Trump was losing in the state.
It began with a gathering of Republican observers around noon on November 4th, according to affidavits from Democratic election observers, impartial observers and election officials.
Soon after, “Republicans began moving around the room,” wrote Dan McKernan, an election worker.
Then they stepped up their objections, accusing the workers of entering incorrect birth years or backdate ballot papers. In some cases, election observers filed blanket claims for misconduct.
“The behavior in the room changed dramatically in the afternoon: the anger of the Republican challengers in the room was nothing I had ever seen in my life,” wrote Anjanette Davenport Hatter, another election worker.
Mr. McKernan wrote: “The Republicans challenged everything at the two tables I could see. When the ballot was opened, they said they couldn’t see it clearly. When the next envelope was opened, they made the same complaint. You have objected to every step down the line for no good reason. “
The chaos set a stage for Michigan officials to debate whether the results should be certified, but a state board did so earlier this month.
Now the Republican-controlled legislature in Michigan is proposing to prevent impartial observers from acting as election observers, and only allow partisan challengers to do so.
While widespread reports of intimidation were never released last year, constituencies say the post-election atmosphere represents a dangerous postponement of the American election.
“In general, this has not been the case for decades, although it has a long and storied history,” said Michael Waldman, a legal expert at the Brennan Center. Aggressive observers of partisan polls have been “a long-standing obstacle to voting in the United States, and it has been largely resolved. And that could bring it back. “