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Outraged by false allegations of fraud against a Georgia election worker in 2020, Amanda Rouser made a vow as she listened to the woman testify before Congress in June about the racist threats and harassment she faced.
“I said to myself that day, ‘I’m going to go to work at the polls and see what they’re going to do to me,'” recalled Rouser, who as the target employee is Black. after passing through a recruiting station of poll workers at Atlanta City Hall on a recent afternoon. ‘Try me, because I’m not afraid of the people.’
About 40 miles north a day later, claims of fraud also brought Carolyn Barnes to a recruiting event for potential poll workers, but with a different motivation.
“I think we had a fraudulent election in 2020 because of mail-in ballots, advanced voting,” Barnes, 52, said after applying to work the polls for the first time in Forsyth County. “I really believe that the more we flood the system with honest people trying to help, it will fix it.”
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Barnes, who declined to give her party affiliation, said she wants to use her position as a poll worker to share her observations about “the gaps” in election security and “where things could go next.”
Almost two years after the last presidential election, there are no signs of widespread fraud or manipulation of voting machines. Numerous reviews in the battleground states where former President Donald Trump contested his loss to President Joe Biden have upheld the results, courts have rejected dozens of lawsuits brought by Trump and his allies, and even his own Trump’s Justice Department concluded that the results were accurate.
However, false claims about the 2020 presidential contest by the former president and his supporters are sparking renewed interest in working the polls in Georgia and elsewhere for the upcoming midterm elections, according to interviews with election officials. experts and possible electoral workers.
Like Rouser, some seek to shore up a critical part of their state’s election system amid lies and misinformation about voting and ballot counting. But false claims and conspiracy theories have also gripped a wide swath of Tory voters, prompting some to sign up to help administer the election for the first time.
The potential for them to play a crucial role at polling places is a new concern this election cycle, said Sean Morales-Doyle, an election security expert at the Brennan Center for Justice.
“I think it’s a problem that there could be people who are running our elections who subscribe to these conspiracy theories and therefore come close to their role of fighting rampant fraud,” he said.
But he also warned that numerous safeguards are in place to prevent a single election worker from disrupting voting or trying to manipulate the results.
The Associated Press spoke with about two dozen potential poll workers in September during three recruiting events in two Georgia counties: Fulton County, which includes most of Atlanta and where more than 70 percent of voters go vote for Biden and Forsyth County north of Atlanta. , where support for Trump topped 65 percent.
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About half said the 2020 election was a factor in their decision to try to become a poll worker.
“We don’t want Donald Trump to intimidate people,” said Priscilla Ficklin, a Democrat, as she submitted an application to Atlanta City Hall to be a Fulton County poll worker. “I’m going to stand up for people who are afraid.”
Carlette Dryden said she showed up to vote in Forsyth County in 2020 only to be told she had already voted by mail. She said election officials later let her vote, but she suspects someone fraudulently voted in her name and believes her experience reflects broader problems with voting across the country.
Still, he said his role was not to police voters or root out fraud.
“What I’m signing up to do is help other people passing by who may need help or answer questions,” he said.
Georgia was the focus of Trump’s attempts to undo his 2020 election loss to Biden. He pressed the state’s Republican secretary of state in a January 2021 phone call to “find” enough votes to overturn Biden’s victory in the state and used surveillance footage to accuse the worker of black election, Wandrea Moss, and her mother, Ruby Freeman, removing suitcases of fraudulent votes in Fulton County. The accusation was quickly dismissed, but was still widely circulated through the conservative media.
Moss told the House committee on Jan. 6 that he received death threats and racist messages.
At a farmers market in the politically mixed suburb of Alpharetta north of Atlanta, Deborah Eves said she was worried about being harassed for working at a polling place but still felt compelled to register.
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A substitute teacher and Democrat, Eves visited a recruiting booth set up by Fulton County officials alongside stands selling single-origin coffee, honey and pies.
“I think our government is ‘we the people’ and ‘we the people’ we need to step up and do things like poll work so we can show that nobody is cheating, nobody is trying to do evil here,” he said.
Allison Saunders, who worked at a polling place for the first time during the state’s May primary, said she believes Moss and Freeman were targeted because they are black. Saunders, a Democrat, was visiting the farmer’s market with her son.
“More people who look like me need to step up and do our part,” said Saunders, who is white. “I think it’s more important to do your civic duty than to be afraid.”
Threats following the 2020 election contributed to an exodus of full-time election officials across the country. Recruiters say they haven’t seen a similar drop in people who have previously done election work — temporary jobs open to local residents during election season. But some of the nation’s largest counties have reported that they are struggling to fill those positions.
Working at the polls has long been seen as an apolitical civic duty. For first-time workers, this usually involves setting up voting machines, greeting voters, checking they are registered and answering questions about the voting process.
Election staff in the US generally do not deeply scrutinize potential poll workers’ political views, although most states have requirements that require a mix of Democratic and Republican poll workers at each polling place.
Forsyth County Elections Director Mandi Smith said she was not concerned about people who believe the last presidential election was fraudulent serving as poll workers. The county offers training that emphasizes that the positions are nonpartisan and that workers must follow certain rules.
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“It’s also a very team-driven process, in the sense that there are multiple poll workers there, and you generally don’t work alone,” he said.
Ginger Aldrich, who attended the county recruiting event, said she knows people who believe the last election was stolen from Trump. Her views made her curious about what she described as the “mysterious” aspects of the voting process, such as where ballots go after they leave the polling place.
“There’s going to be unscrupulous people, and they’re going to spend all this time figuring out how to beat the system,” said Aldrich, who is retired.
While she believes there is election fraud, she said she was willing to use her experience as a poll worker to try to convince people there were no problems in her county with the midterm elections.