RNC recruits Michigan poll workers as part of vote monitoring efforts

BLOOMFIELD HILLS, Michigan. — National Republicans launched their in-person recruiting efforts in the crucial state of Michigan on Friday, part of their broader effort to build an Election Day army of 100,000 poll workers and observers intended to combat the uncommon problem of electoral fraud.

National GOP officials, including Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Whatley and Co-Chair Lara Trump, as well as local and state party officials have drummed up enthusiasm for the party’s ambitious “Protect the Vote” agenda in the small Oakland County GOP office, about 30 miles away. northwest of downtown Detroit.

The event was the first in a series of events hosted by the RNC to begin more publicly rolling out its recruiting efforts to bolster the massive election integrity effort announced in April, which aims to deploy 100,000 volunteers and lawyers – mainly in seven swing states – to monitor the elections. vote.

Volunteers at an RNC ballot training event in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, on Friday.Nick Hagen for NBC News

Before a crowd of about 100 people, Whatley and Trump redoubled their focus on the exceptionally rare problem of voter fraud and urged attendees to volunteer to help with the effort in Michigan.

“If we have free, fair and transparent elections, there is no doubt that when the votes are counted, we will go to bed early on November 5. We’ll wrap this up so everyone can get a good night’s sleep. and we will go to bed knowing that Donald Trump is our next president,” Trump said.

She added that she and Whatley “have two jobs at the RNC: getting out the vote and protecting the ballot.”

“And that’s where you come in,” Trump said to applause.

Lara Trump, co-chair of the Republican National Committee and Turning Point Action, speaks to volunteers at an RNC get-out-the-vote training event in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, on Friday.Nick Hagen for NBC News

Whatley said the increased public recruitment effort revolved around two concepts: observation and advertising.

“You have to be in the room when people vote” and “You have to be in the room when the votes are counted,” he said.

“It’s not an election denialist conspiracy theory to say you should be in the room and you should make sure these things are done fairly,” Whatley said.

He added that it was equally important to “make sure we talk” frequently about the broader topic of election integrity.

Amid a years-long series of false accusations surrounding former President Donald Trump’s 2020 election, the RNC announced plans in April to assemble a 100,000-person force to combat widespread voter fraud, according to him. (There is no evidence of widespread voter fraud in the 2020 race, and election officials have repeatedly said votes were secure in the race.)

RNC Chairman Michael Whatley speaks to volunteers at an RNC ballot training event in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, on Friday.Nick Hagen for NBC News

But Republican Party officials have provided few details about those plans, while critics have said the planned size and scope of the effort is too large. ambitious. And until Friday, recruiting efforts were almost entirely directed at the Protectthevote.com website, run by the RNC.

The event’s organizers, the national Republican Party and the Michigan Republican Party, continued to provide few details about their successful recruitment and did not allow media to observe the training session Friday. Participants in the session described it as being sketchy and similar to previous advice provided by local party officials on how best to carry out the duties of an observer or poll watcher.

Nonetheless, attendees also expressed ardent enthusiasm for the Republican Party’s focus on the issue of election integrity, with many citing it as one of the three issues they are most concerned about ahead of the election.

“Election integrity is crucial,” said Chris Meister, a 67-year-old retiree.

Lara Trump, co-chair of the Republican National Committee and Turning Point Action, poses with volunteers at an RNC get-out-the-vote training event in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, on Friday.Nick Hagen for NBC News

“We should all ensure that every vote is counted accurately,” he said, adding that “frankly, Michigan’s system is completely devoid of any sort of checks and balances to ensure integrity.”

He attended the training at Friday’s event, saying it was primarily focused on how to best “raise and report” issues with election officials on the ground at polling places on Election Day.

Others in attendance repeated some stories and theories popular among 2020 election skeptics about Michigan’s vote counting processes four years ago.

Bill Tedesco, an 81-year-old high school substitute teacher, said he remains “extremely” concerned about voter fraud and said Trump “was misled” in 2020 and was the real winner in Michigan. He also discussed his views on what happened at Detroit’s TCF Center — a 2020 election night vote-counting site that descended into chaos after tensions erupted between tabulators of votes and Republican election observers. It has emerged as the center of some lawsuits seeking to overturn the results in Michigan.

“In Detroit, at one point, they kicked out poll watchers and put pizza boxes in the windows. You don’t do that if you want to be honest. There has to be a different way to monitor these elections,” he said.

Volunteers Bill Tedesco, 81, of Warren and Teresa Snider, 60, of White Lake.Nick Hagen for NBC News

Tedesco attended the training and said his takeaway was that a poll watcher’s job was to “be the eyes and the ears.” He summarized what officials told attendees as: “Stay within the law” and “don’t be a jerk,” but “if you spot something that seems out of place, say something.”

Other attendees shared that they were concerned about specific voting-related issues — and were glad that national and state parties chose the Midwestern battleground of Michigan as the location to begin their public efforts, even though training did not delve into detailed information. .

“There are way too many mail-in ballots in Michigan,” said Teresa Snider, a 60-year-old mortgage collector in Oakland County. “If you want to vote, you should be there and do it,” she said, adding that mail-in voting was acceptable for people with disabilities and the elderly but “in general they create too many problems “.

The Michigan event was billed as the official kickoff for the party’s more specific plans to recruit volunteers and even train them in election monitoring practices. The RNC has planned similar events in Pennsylvania and North Carolina next week, as well as in Georgia the following week. Officials said plans were underway to hold more in other battleground states, including Wisconsin, in the coming weeks.

Biden won Michigan in 2020 by 2.8 percentage points, while Trump won it in 2016 by just 0.2 percentage points, or fewer than 11,000 votes. The race promises to be tight again this year.

In recent months, the RNC has placed greater emphasis on election integrity. After Trump clinched the Republican presidential nomination in March, the party launched a series of lawsuits arguing that voter rolls in some key states were inflated. The RNC also brought in election lawyers before announcing in April plans to deploy an army of supporters on Election Day to “protect the vote and ensure a big victory” in November.

However, Democrats who have worked closely with voter protection efforts have argued that the RNC is overdoing their work and have expressed skepticism that Republicans can recruit so many people to monitor elections for fraud.

RNC Chairman Michael Whatley and Lara Trump, co-chair of the Republican National Committee and Turning Point Action, hold a news conference outside an RNC get-out-the-vote education event in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, Friday.Nick Hagen for NBC News

Meanwhile, election officials, including in Michigan, said they understand the value of poll watchers, monitors and challengers — but stressed the importance that they receive proper training and expressed their concerns. concerns about RNC training sessions.

“They play a critical role in ensuring accountability in Election Day operations. They play an important role in [being] a check and balance,” said Lisa Posthumus Lyons, who as clerk of west Michigan’s Kent County is the county’s top elections official.

“The key,” said Posthumus Lyons, who is a Republican, “is to make sure that they are properly trained and prepared, that they are clear about their roles and responsibilities, that they know the election laws and how to of which they are administered. »

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