Skeptics to be Deployed as Poll Watchers for Midterms Elections

As part of a modified reaction to election fraud charges in the last presidential race, Republicans are hiring more poll observers for November.

Poll watching, a mundane chore where volunteers look for rule infractions at polling stations, has become a flashpoint in the dispute over U.S. election regulations after former President Donald Trump claimed that rampant election fraud lost him the 2020 campaign. The RNC has begun a multimillion-dollar push to recruit tens of thousands of poll monitors and workers.

Many Republican voters remain skeptical about the 2020 election, and the GOP encourages them to volunteer at the polls. Some Republicans see the move as a method to prevent Mr. Trump’s fraud charges from causing supporters to boycott the election. Democrats fear political volunteers might intimidate voters or election officials.

In Brown County, Wis., the local Republican party has recruited more than 100 poll observers. Brown County voted 53% for Trump in 2020. Joe Biden beat Donald Trump in Wisconsin in 2020 by 20,700 votes. Ken Glowacki, 70, a retired fiberglass manufacturer, signed up as a monitor because he was unsure if the 2020 election was fair. Mr. Glowacki sat in an armchair with other spectators during the August primary in Green Bay, Wisconsin.

Mr. Glowacki said Democrats used the Covid-19 outbreak to modify election regulations, such as increasing absentee ballot drop boxes, which are no longer allowed in Wisconsin following a July court order.

Mr. Glowacki volunteered because “it’s simple to complain.” It is harder to do something to fix it. 

Unruly poll observers might intimidate minority voters, who have traditionally suffered prejudice, say, Democrats and voting-rights advocates.

Republicans deny any impropriety and claim poll monitors boost electoral openness and confidence.

Many people become angry but do nothing. Or they say, ‘I’ll never vote again,'” said Brown County Republican Party Chairman Jim Fitzgerald. Adding that, they sought to restore ballot integrity.

In Wisconsin, observers can’t take pictures during voting, touch official election papers, or engage with voters unless asked. Federal law bans intimidating voters, as do other states. State-level Democratic parties recruit poll observers, but national and state groups exchange lists. The DNC is spending tens of millions on voter registration and lawsuits to defend access to the polls. Political outside groups hire poll monitors.

This year’s Wisconsin elections are high-profile. Sen. Ron Johnson, a Trump-backed Republican who initially opposed certifying certain states’ 2020 results but didn’t, is being challenged by Wisconsin’s lieutenant governor, Mandela Barnes. Trump-backed Republican Tim Michels is challenging Democratic Gov. Tony Evers.

Wisconsin has been a hotbed of voting fights, including a Republican-led election audit. Wisconsin could affect the elections and the 2024 presidential race. Evers said the governor plays a vital role in certifying Wisconsin election results and cautioned that if Republicans win, they might refuse to certify results. Mr. Michels vows to tighten voting regulations, including absentee voting, to increase election security and voter trust.

Volunteers opened absentee ballots in Green Bay’s City Hall on August’s primary day. Behind a rope line, a half-dozen vote watchers or observers scrutinized their every step. A local cop guarded the hall. Green Bay ordered police to supervise absentee ballot counting in 2020, says City Clerk Celestine Jeffreys, citing “mistrust in elections.”

Ms. Jeffreys invites observers but fears disturbance. Challenging, meddling, and interrupting are now the norm in her experience. Ms. Jeffreys was named clerk by the mayor, a former Democratic state politician, and the municipal council in 2021. Her post is technically nonpartisan.

Other states’ poll observers worry about election authorities. Local election authorities in North Carolina said some observers interfered with voters during the May primary.

They want to prevent any disruptive difficulties moving ahead, especially because these cases seem to have just surfaced in considerable numbers, said North Carolina State Board of Elections lawyer Paul Cox.

Green Party nominee Jill Stein demanded a 2016 presidential recount, which didn’t influence Trump’s win. Trump declared victory in 2020 despite no court finding massive fraud.

Wisconsin Democratic Party Chairman Ben Wikler said Republicans are overly focused on 2020. Mr. Wikler said this makes it harder for Republicans to win statewide office in 2022. If Republicans win, a flood of legislation or worse may break down the state’s democracy.

In the Senate campaign, Mr. Barnes, the Democrat aiming to flip the seat, has accused Mr. Johnson, the Republican incumbent, of undermining democracy by downplaying Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol incident, in which Trump supporters disrupted Mr. Biden’s presidential-election certification.

Johnson didn’t oppose certifying the 2020 election results, but he was concerned that many people questioned them. Mr. Johnson termed election law a federal power grab. Mr. Barnes supports proposals to expand federal monitoring of state voting laws, including voter-ID requirements.

Sandy Juno, a former Brown County clerk, recruits poll observers in Green Bay. Ms. Juno retired after the 2020 election to spend more time with family. After getting angry with local leaders, she recruited vote observers for the local Republican Party.

Ms. Juno echoed other conservatives who criticized Green Bay for accepting $1.3 million from the Center for Tech and Civic Life. The organization established a funding program to help local election offices adapt to the pandemic, including buying protective gear and expanding vote-by-mail. Ms. Juno didn’t want outside groups engaged. She said, “Perception matters.” The city and nonprofit justified the financing. Several nationwide lawsuits challenging the funding scheme failed.

Ms. Juno said she is recruiting poll observers for the elections and expects to provide volunteer training sessions. Local Republicans arranged the sessions, and she welcomed everybody. Ms. Juno added. She had some folks who definitely had more questions, but she communicated very clearly that people we want to be observers that are nice, respectful, and polite.

Mr. Glowacki stated in November; he’ll volunteer again. He remarked that he cares about the nation’s future. Democratic volunteer Sherry Ewaskowitz, 70, said vote observers shouldn’t be politicized. Ms. Ewaskowitz, a substitute teacher who has followed elections for a decade, wants her candidate to win. Everyone’s voice is important, though.