G.O.P. Intensifies Scrutiny of Voting: ‘We’re Keeping a Close Eye on You’

On a Monday in mid-March, the Wisconsin Republican Party gathered about 50 conservative activists on a Zoom call to train them in how to become poll workers, helping oversee and monitor the casting and counting of votes.

Heavily Democratic areas of the battleground state were a key focus. “Eau Claire, Madison, Milwaukee — that type,” Mike Hoffman, the state party’s election integrity director, said as he ticked off places being targeted.

“We’re keeping a close eye on you,” he recounted telling one city clerk, according to audio recordings of the party’s training sessions obtained by The New York Times.

The Wisconsin training sessions are a small part of an expansive operation announced on Friday by former President Donald J. Trump’s campaign and the Republican National Committee, which plan to dispatch more than 100,000 volunteers and lawyers to monitor and potentially challenge the electoral process in each battleground state. They will focus on every aspect of voting, including mail ballots, voting machines and post-Election Day recounts and audits.

The sprawling effort is rooted in Mr. Trump’s persistent false claims that Democrats cheated to win the 2020 election. His allies have helped turn that belief into Republican doctrine despite the overwhelming conclusion by Democratic and G.O.P. election officials, as well as federal and state judges, that no evidence of widespread fraud exists.

“Democrat tricks from 2020 won’t work this time,” Charlie Spies, the chief counsel of the R.N.C., pledged in a statement announcing the program. “In 2024, we’re going to beat the Democrats at their own game and the R.N.C. legal team will be working tirelessly to ensure that elections officials follow the rules in administering elections.”

The R.N.C. had a similar program during the 2022 midterms, but this year’s operation is larger and signals the party’s direction under new leaders, including Mr. Spies, who were handpicked by Mr. Trump. They have been told to make so-called election integrity central to the party’s ground game and to be far more aggressive in challenging both election procedures and results.

At rallies, Mr. Trump regularly pushes the baseless claim that Democrats are likely to cheat to win the 2024 election. More recently, he has insisted that Republicans need to turn out in numbers so large that his victory will be “too big to rig.”

He has also told his supporters to be vigilant at polling sites.

“They cheat like hell,” Mr. Trump said of Democrats at a rally in Pennsylvania last weekend. “And when you see them cheating, you get out there and start screaming. Start screaming.”

He has repeatedly urged his supporters and allies to “guard the vote” in November. And his sights appear to be set on heavily Democratic, and often heavily Black, cities in battleground states that he lost in 2020. He and his supporters raised baseless concerns about widespread election fraud in these places as they worked to overturn that year’s contest.

Since his defeat, Mr. Trump has privately groused that his legal team was unprepared to challenge the results. His team and its allies lost all but one of more than 60 lawsuits they brought, with their lawyers unable to provide valid evidence of widespread fraud that had changed the election results, as they claimed.

The new plan for a large network of lawyers is a fresh sign that if Mr. Trump loses in November, he is likely to challenge the results again. The R.N.C. statement on Friday said the operation would run “from the first day of early voting through Election Day — and afterward if necessary.”

Some lawyers have already been stationed in competitive states. At one of the Wisconsin training sessions in late March, Mr. Hoffman, the state G.O.P. official, outlined the party’s plans.

“We are going to have deployed attorneys specifically for Milwaukee Central Council, and roaming attorneys for Racine and Kenosha,” he said, according to an audio recording of the training. “We’re going to have attorneys fly in from Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota. Wisconsin’s too important to lose.”

Matt Fisher, a spokesman for the Wisconsin Republican Party, said in a statement: “Wisconsinites have the right to expect fair elections. From ridding our election offices of dark money interference to securing a record number of poll workers, the Republican Party of Wisconsin is committed to protecting the right to vote in 2024.”

A representative for the Republican National Committee did not respond to a request for comment.

The R.N.C.’s announcement of its program boasts of a “historic collaboration between the R.N.C., the Trump campaign, and passionate grass-roots coalitions” — a nod to an extensive network of conservative election activists who have met regularly in the years since the 2020 election.

Led by Trump allies like Cleta Mitchell, a conservative lawyer who helped Mr. Trump try to overturn the 2020 election, and Mike Lindell, the pillow entrepreneur who is a leading promoter of conspiracy theories about election machines, the activists have increasingly focused on challenging voters’ eligibility and removing voters from the rolls if they are found to be ineligible.

Officials from the R.N.C. have already begun reaching out to some of these activists. Christina Norton, the director of the party’s election integrity unit, was on an April 4 videoconference call with election activists who gather regularly, including some leaders of the movement promoting conspiracy theories about election machines.

Many of these election activists had previously been wary of the R.N.C. because they believed it didn’t fully embrace lies about the 2020 contest. But Ms. Norton has emphasized that she wants to work closely with the activists going forward.

And the R.N.C.’s hiring of Christina Bobb, a right-wing former lawyer for Mr. Trump, as senior election counsel could help bridge that gap. Ms. Bobb was involved in efforts to overturn the 2020 election and has for years spread false claims about the contest.

“This is a full partnership with the grass-roots and with the local activists on the ground,” Ms. Norton said on the April 4 call, according to an audio recording, which was posted on Rumble and first reported by States Newsroom, a nonprofit news network. “We all want to be actively communicating and working together hand in hand as one cohesive team.”

Ms. Norton said on the call that the R.N.C. had been carrying out test runs during the primary elections in battleground states. She said it had dispatched volunteers to polling sites and ballot counting centers, gathered lawyers in a “war room” to address perceived problems and sent volunteer lawyers to visit polling sites. Ms. Norton emphasized that observers would watch the testing of election machines.

“Any time a ballot is being cast or handled, we’re going to ensure that there are eyes on that process,” Ms. Norton said.

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