November 3 (Reuters) – Canvassers in California’s Shasta County in September wore reflective orange vests and official-looking badges that read “Vote Taskforce”. Four residents said they mistook them for government officials.
But the knockers did not explain where to vote or promote a candidate, the usual job of canvassers before a big election.
Instead, they asked residents about their voting history and who lived in their homes, probing questions that could have violated state bullying and harassment laws, according to the county’s election official. .
In one house, they interrogated a couple to find out where their adult daughter was. At another, they listed the names of registered voters and demanded to know if they still lived at the address.
The incidents highlight how a once-routine staple of US elections – door-to-door knocking – has been embraced by former US President Donald Trump’s supporters since the 2020 election to prove his baseless allegations of fraud election, or potentially deprive voters of their right to vote by stoking doubts about voter registers.
In at least 19 states, pro-Trump canvassers are using their findings to pressure election officials to clean up what they claim are inaccurate voter registration lists, saying they could open the door to a fraudulent vote.
In at least one state, Michigan, they plan to use their list of alleged irregularities to challenge voters in the Nov. 8 election.
Canvassers believe such efforts reveal evidence that voting machines were rigged in 2020 to steal the election from Trump, according to a Reuters review of literature and reports from the groups.
But activists often seem more interested in undermining faith in American democracy than trying to improve it, said Stephen Richer, recorder for Maricopa County in Arizona, a Republican. “They hope we fail. They hope mistakes happen and they even try to do things to disrupt the system,” he said.
In Shasta County, a rugged, mountainous region of more than 180,000 people where pro-Trump Republicans dominate local government, Clerk Cathy Darling Allen said she noticed trouble in mid-September when three residents complained canvassers on Facebook.
When Allen contacted voters, they all asked if the county sent the canvassers. Allen replied that the visitors had nothing to do with his office.
A week later, a fourth resident called police when canvassers showed up at his door demanding voting information that made him suspicious, according to a Redding Police Department report.
In a public statement released Sept. 26, Allen warned that the canvassers’ actions amounted to intimidation and violations of election laws. “I was very concerned that it would have a chilling effect on people’s willingness to register to vote, and that’s not OK,” she said in an interview.
Reuters has identified at least 23 statewide or local efforts where canvassers may have crossed the line of intimidation, according to election officials and suffrage advocates. Some carried guns, wore name tags, asked people who they had voted for or demanded personal information, election officials said.
The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, a coalition of more than 200 civil rights groups, said it received more such reports than in previous elections. “These tactics are very concerning,” said YT Bell, a coalition election adviser.
WORK FOR THE GOVERNMENT?
Visits can be confusing, officials say, because canvassers sometimes give the false impression that they work for the government – which is illegal.
The questions they ask can cross the line into illegal voter intimidation, said Rupa Bhattacharyya of the Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection at Georgetown Law School.
Canvassers say they have uncovered thousands of inaccurate voter registrations across the country since the 2020 election, flooding officials in some states with requests to remove those voters from the rolls.
In Delaware County, Pennsylvania, Chief Electoral Officer James Allen said his office has already identified many of the 12,763 ineligible voters, who a group of Holocaust deniers say no longer live in the state, and removed from the lists. The request came too late, he said, because federal law prohibits removing groups of registered voters within 90 days of an election.
Door-to-door campaigns have been encouraged by some of Trump’s staunchest allies. Pillow company owner Mike Lindell, a wealthy champion of voter fraud theories, has hosted televised conferences where activists tout the results of their canvassing. Steve Bannon, a former senior adviser to Trump, called for a “50-state canvas” on his podcast a year ago.
Douglas Frank, a Lindell ally and Ohio math and science professor who travels the country promoting debunked theories that voting machines were hacked in 2020, encouraged local canvassing teams.
Bannon declined to comment. Lindell said a group he supports, Cause of America, does not canvass but provides an online “vote crime” library. Frank did not respond to requests for comment.
‘A GOOD FIRE’
Dressed in a red, white and blue bow tie, Frank traveled to Shasta County in September to address a Sept. 13 meeting of county supervisors.
Frank said he would compile an address list to help local canvassers uncover “genuine actionable voter fraud,” according to a recording of the meeting on the county’s website. Two people present at the meeting said they had started visiting properties to root out illegally registered voters. One of them, contacted by Reuters, declined to comment.
Hours later, at a local church, Frank told a group calling itself the “Elections Task Force” that the Shasta conservatives had “a good bonfire” and urged them to “throw it in.” some gasoline,” according to a video of the speech. seen by Reuters.
Alarmed by the call for aggressive canvassing at the supervisors’ meeting and in Frank’s church speech, Shasta Clerk Allen wrote to federal, state and local law enforcement on September 15, claiming that canvassing “probably constituted a felony or crimes” under California voter law. intimidation.
The county attorney’s office told Reuters it was aware of “recent concerns” and that “all potential violations submitted to the office will be carefully considered.”
“MEETING WITH OPEN ARMS”
In Douglas County, Oregon, Nan Isaacson, an 85-year-old retiree, said she got involved in a door-to-door effort in her hometown of Sutherlin after watching videos on a Lindell-backed election conspiracy website that claimed without evidence that ballots in 2020 had been altered. in China to help Democrat Joe Biden win the election.
This prompted her to volunteer for a local ‘voter integrity’ committee, which armed her with official-looking forms asking residents to swear ‘under penalty of perjury’ to verify their voting activity during of the 2020 election. Reuters reviewed copies of the forms.
During an investigation of eight homes in his neighborhood, four voters signed forms claiming they either hadn’t received the correct ballot in the 2020 election, or hadn’t gotten it at all ballot paper.
Isaacson described residents as happy to cooperate. “We were welcomed with open arms,” she said in an interview.
Douglas County Clerk Dan Loomis said he received complaints from voters who felt intimidated by canvassers, including one who called to ask if his office was behind the effort. “I don’t think the Solicitors intend to spread intimidation, but their actions may be interpreted as intimidating by some people,” he said.
In Colorado, a group called the US Election Integrity Project (USEIP) also sent canvassers who voters mistook for county employees, according to four county clerks interviewed by Reuters.
Voters reported USEIP canvassers wearing name tags and carrying firearms on occasion in 2021, according to clerks in Pueblo and El Paso counties. In August, people affiliated with USEIP also canvassed in La Plata County, according to the county clerk. USEIP co-founder Holly Kasun told Reuters that local activists act independently of the group.
Three civic organizations sued USEIP in March, alleging the Colorado group’s door-to-door activity intimidated voters. But a federal judge refused to stop the activity, saying he had seen no evidence the solicitation was continuing or intimidated voters. The case is heading to trial.
The solicitation by loosely connected networks of pro-Trump Republican activists is separate from Republican Party efforts such as promoting candidates or seeking tougher election laws.
The Republican National Committee does not engage in election integrity efforts or coordinate with outside groups, a spokesperson told Reuters.
But in at least one case, local Republican Party officials appear to be involved.
At a town hall meeting Oct. 11 in Lane County, Oregon, county Republican organization leader John Large accused local officials of ignoring the results of their investigation, which they say revealed hundreds of suspicious recordings. Lane County Clerk Dena Dawson said she does not have the authority to unilaterally remove names from voter rolls.
In Michigan, activists plan to go further. A group called Election Integrity Force said it plans to send election candidates to each of the state’s 83 counties to raise objections against people they suspect are not legally registered to vote.
These electoral challengers will be equipped with lists of ineligible voters taken from their web and voter roll results, said Sandy Kiesel, the group’s director, who ran unsuccessfully in August to be the Republican Party’s candidate for the state legislature.
Under state law, a candidate for election may oppose a voter if they have good reason to believe that the voter does not live there or is otherwise unqualified. The on-site election official then resolves the complaint.
Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson told Reuters that clerks “stand ready to dismiss challenges that lack substance and eject challengers who repeatedly issue them.”
Reporting by Ned Parker and Andy Sullivan; additional reporting by Linda So; edited by Jason Szep and Chris Sanders
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