Trump and Cronies Aim to Infiltrate Local Elections Machinery
“Having election deniers run elections is like having arsonists take over the fire department.”
Sound the Alarm
If you are watching with some dismay the American Experiment slipping from our grasp, now is not the time to be a mere spectator. Trump and his confederates seem determined to loosen the guardrails that made the 2020 election “the most secure in American history,” according to Trump’s own Department of Homeland Security.
Of course, the man who made the remark, department Under-Secretary Chris Krebs, was fired immediately. His expert opinion directly contradicted Donald Trump’s false claim of a stolen election. We are all familiar with the ensuing chaos, cajoling and courtroom drama that took place between election day and Inauguration Day. We are still waiting for a single shred of evidence that would suggest voter fraud. We stand proud of those election officials who resisted being swayed by a corrupt political bully. Because of these heroes, Americans were given a peaceful transfer of power that has become our birthright.
We now know that Trump and his allies have learned certain lessons from their failure to seize power following their 2020 election loss. They’ve vowed to not let it happen again and have embarked upon a two-pronged strategy: Along with gerrymandering district maps into even more stubborn Republican legislative majorities, Trump and his conservative allies are fighting to seize control of local elections machinery.
According to a Pro Publica investigation, “[conservatives] who had never before shown any interest in politics started calling the local GOP headquarters or crowding into county conventions, eager to enlist as precinct officers.”
Are you focusing, progressives? Now is the time to step up.
Since “all politics is local”…that is, elections are administered on a state, county and precinct level…you’ll need to contact your local Board of Elections (or the Democratic Party) to learn what positions are open and feasible. It is so different across political boundaries that making generalizations is fruitless. But I can give you an example that’s close to home. If you live in a city, the setup might be very similar.
The Office of the Philadelphia City Commissioners holds elections every four odd years to choose a Judge of Election and a Majority and Minority Inspector for each precinct throughout the city.
In order to get on the ballot, you must submit a nominating petition with the county Board of Elections. A minimum of 10 signatures is required for the Judge of Election, and a minimum of five signatures for each Inspector of Election. These races are won by handful to a few hundred votes if they are contested at all. Candidates must be at least 18 and live in the jurisdiction to file a petition.
These are paid positions: Judges of Election are paid $120 for a long day at the polls. Training pays an additional $30 (as long as you show up on election day). Election officials perform a variety of tasks, like hiring poll workers and making sure disputes are resolved and things run smoothly. They also participate in the canvassing (counting) of ballots, though the final count and certification is the responsibility of the three-member Philadelphia City Commission, therefore serving as the city’s canvassing board.
When Al Schmidt ran for the minority Republican seat on the Philadelphia City Commission in 2011, he never dreamed that someday he would be relentlessly attacked by the sitting President of the United States…and a member of his own party to boot. But that’s exactly what happened in the aftermath of the 2020 presidential election. Ultimately, Al Schmidt chose to tell the truth and survived with his integrity intact (and a promotion!).
When final vote counts revealed that President Trump had lost Pennsylvania and enough battleground states to make Joe Biden president, Trump and his MAGA gang searched for vulnerabilities in the vote-counting rooms. It seemed like a good bet that the Republican Philadelphia City Commissioner would be willing to march in lockstep with Trump’s relentless cadence of voter fraud. Trump tweeted that Schmidt “refuses to look at the mountain of corruption and dishonesty. We win!”
Schmidt, a good government advocate with a Ph.D. in political history from Brandeis University, knew otherwise. He had a birdseye view of the count. Schmidt retorted, “I think people should be mindful that there are bad actors who are lying to them.” He still receives death threats to this day.
Schmidt recently resigned from the City Commission to accept a plum job at a good government group called the Committee of 70. The Philadelphia mayor will appoint a placeholder until the seat is up in 2023. Like the mob in Las Vegas back in the day, the MAGA crowd would love to get inside “counting rooms” such as this. It’s a long shot in a blue city like Philadelphia, but stay tuned.
On his fringe right-wing podcast, former Trump adviser Steve Bannon doesn’t mince words: He is urging his listeners to seize control of local elections administration. Bannon: “It’s going to be a fight, but this is a fight that must be won, we don’t have an option. We’re going to take this back village by village…precinct by precinct.”
Bannon’s urgency might sound like his deference to The Big Lie, but it’s also about emerging Republican orthodoxy: Elections are not about who gets the most votes. They’re more about “rigging the process and controlling the ballot.”
Their utter disdain for democracy is hiding in plain sight.
It should be no surprise that statewide offices involved in elections administration are being targeted by MAGA. According to the Washington Post, 10 races for Secretary of State and eight for Attorney General are being contested by Republican candidates who’ve openly embraced The Big Lie and pledged fealty to Donald Trump.
Back to Pennsylvania: CNN reported that in two mostly-rural counties, Lancaster and York, candidates for Election Judge and Inspector openly wave the MAGA flag. Most won the office without opposition. In one Election Judge race in Lancaster County, Democrats unsuccessfully tried to mount a write-in campaign against a Republican who was spotted at the January 6 insurrection.
“Find Me 11,780 Votes”
We are all familiar with Trump’s infamous phone call to Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, in which Trump’s plea to “find” enough votes to turn the state tally his way is now under investigation by the Fulton County prosecutor.
Predictably, Raffensperger is being “primaried” in 2022 by Congresswoman Jody Hice, a Trump zealot who voted against certifying the 2020 election.
Michigan has become a hotbed of local elections mischief. As the Detroit News first reported, members of local canvassing boards have been replaced en masse by MAGA people in key counties across the state. In Macomb County, Michigan’s third-largest, a one Nancy Tiseo was appointed to the canvassing board there. This is the same woman who tweeted shortly after the 2020 presidential election that Trump should suspend meetings of the electoral college and have “military tribunals” to investigate voter fraud.
We’ll give Jeff Timmer, the former chair of the Michigan Republican Party (and a Trump critic), the last word:
This is a great big flashing red warning sign. The officials who fulfilled thie legal duty after the last election are being replaced by people who are pledging to throw a wrench in the gears of the next election. It tells you that they are planning nothing but chaos and that they have a strategy to disrupt the certification of the next election.Jeff Timmer
It would seem sitting on the sidelines is no longer an option.