New interviewers raise concerns in Michigan and elsewhere

LANSING, Michigan (AP) – A shortage of polling staff has worried local election officials in parts of the country as the mid-term elections approach. Not like that in Michigan.

Conservative groups and local Republican Party activists who pushed false claims about the 2020 presidential election have recruited thousands of survey workers here. Similar recruiting efforts on the right have bolstered the ranks of polling workers in some other states with races being watched across the country.

The inundation of the frontline of electoral workers with people recruited by conspiracy groups has raised alarm among some that the people who lay the foundations of the electoral system may be trying to undermine it.

“It bothers me when the motivation to be a survey worker is fueled by disinformation and people who have, in some cases, been fed lies for years,” said Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, a Democrat. “Since the spring, officials have been approaching us with the questions they receive, and in some cases, hundreds of survey requests that appear to have malicious intentions.”

In Oakland, the second-most populous county in the state, Republicans “disheartened by the 2020 election results.” have been called on to register as survey staff under the new Republican National Committee recruitment program.

“If you’re angry, tired and afraid of a repeat of the November 2020 horror movie, this is one way you can help,” the Oakland County GOP website reads.

In Florida, three men who are part of the Miami-Dade GOP executive committee and also have ties to the far-right extremist group Proud Boys have applied for and qualified to serve in the Miami polls. Election officials said they decided not to assign a police station to one of them after learning that he had been charged in the January 6 Capitol Uprising.

Former President Donald Trump’s refusal to admit defeat in the 2020 presidential race and his repeated lies about widespread fraud infiltrated the Republican Party and convinced nearly six out of 10 GOP voters that the elections had been stolen from him in some way. There is no evidence of widespread fraud, and Trump’s claims have been dismissed by dozens of judges and exposed by top officials in his own administration.

The lies prompted some GOP officials to push forward their efforts to ensure what they say is “electoral honesty.” Among these efforts are steps taken across the country to recruit and train people to work at polling stations and act as survey observers to monitor issues.

The RNC said it has made a multi-million dollar investment in this year’s electoral cycle, which includes 17 state “election integrity directors” and 37 state “electoral integrity advisers.” The group says it has recruited more than 11,000 Michigan survey workers. In neighboring Wisconsin, recruiting resulted in an additional 5,000

In Milwaukee, these efforts led to five times as many guerrillas becoming electoral workers than in previous years. The head of the Milwaukee Election Commission, Claire Woodall-Vogg, said she was confident the checks and balances system would catch anyone who might try to interfere with the vote, noting that a second election inspector must sign off for each assignment.

“Anyone with bad intentions, I suppose, would immediately be able to identify,” she said.

Claims of fraud for 2020 are particularly deeply entrenched in Michigan, where they were echoed by GOP candidates for governor, secretary of state and attorney general.

Election inspectors’ manuals produced by Michigan for America First, a subsidiary of former White House national security adviser Michael Flynn’s group, The America Project, encourage supporters to work in polls because “election fraud and fraud are not possible without the collusion of poll workers.”

Poll workers, known as Michigan election inspectors, are hired, trained and paid by local councils to help conduct the elections. They are required to disclose party affiliation and are expected to be impartial in their duties as government employees, but are not required to live in the county where they will conduct the polls.

In Flint, the Michigan government and the RNC are suing election officials to force them to recruit more Republican election inspectors. Michigan law forces officials to seek equal party representation, but local officials say labor shortages often prevent this goal from being achieved.

Several problems with interviewers in Michigan have surfaced this year.

Ahead of August’s primary elections, the Republican governorate candidate instructed poll officials to unplug voting equipment as a way to root out potential fraud.

In Macomb County, north of Detroit, an official Anthony Forlini received a reaction to the decision to hire activist Genevieve Peters to help recruit survey workers. Peters was outside the Capitol during the January 6 Uprising and is seen in a video urging the crowd to “storm the gates.”

Forlini said involving anti-electioners in the process helps them “believe in the systems we put in place.”

A city official south of Grand Rapids had a similar intention when he invited James Holkeboer to participate in the primaries. The official, Michael Brew, was quoted in the police file saying that Holkeboer “is a person who does not have much confidence in the election process.”

Holkeboer is currently accused of falsifying voting records and using a computer to commit a crime. He faces up to five years in prison after inserting a USB drive into an electronic electoral book on the night of the primaries. He told investigators that he wanted a copy of his own to make sure that the voter list matched the one obtained from the enrollment requests.

“It was extremely disturbing and incredibly outrageous,” said Republican Lisa Posthumus Lyons, a Kent County official.

The Michigan Democratic Party does not recruit election inspectors, but instead ensures it has “eyes and ears on the ground” through poll observers to make sure there is no intimidation or interference by voters from within, said Erica Peresman, director of security party voters.

She said that although the party has recruited for these positions in the past, the effort has been stepped up due to “what we have read about the efforts of the Republican Party and the efforts of its allies this year.”

Peresman said Democrats are prioritizing electoral locations such as Detroit, where the party is particularly concerned about guerrilla behavior.

GOP leaders targeted Detroit after the 2020 presidential election, claiming fraud was possible there as only 170 of the 5,486 election officials were Republicans.

Detroit official Janice Winfrey said the Republicans had sent her a list of 800 names to become poll workers earlier this year, a significant increase over previous election years. She said she welcomed the extra help and invited them to complete the necessary training – although only 200 did.

“I think they just found out it wasn’t going to be as easy as we thought disrupting the process,” Winfrey said.

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Associated Press writers Carrie Antlfinger and Claire Savage of Milwaukee and Adriana Gomez Licon of Miami contributed to this report.

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Joey Cappelletti is a member of the Associated Press / Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nationwide non-profit program that places journalists in local newsrooms to cover hidden topics.

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Follow AP’s coverage of the elections at: https://apnews.com/hub/2022-midterm-elections. Check out https://apnews.com/hub/explaining-the-elections to learn more about the issues and factors surrounding the 2022 mid-term election.

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