Michigan braces for influx of partisan poll workers amid chaotic GOP governor primary

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'This problem is on a scale that I don't think we've seen before,' one Michigan voting rights advocate said.

Following his arrest last week by the Federal Bureau of Investigation for his involvement in the Jan. 6, 2021, U.S. Capitol insurrection, Michigan Republican gubernatorial candidate Ryan D. Kelley appeared on a podcast hosted by former President Donald Trump senior adviser Steve Bannon to air his grievances with law enforcement and Democrats.

On the June 11 episode of Bannon's "War Room" podcast, Kelley claimed his arrest was politically motivated and represented a "weaponization of the FBI."

"This is the strong hand of the Democratic Party continuing this wild goose chase of this January 6 baseless claims of an insurrection, right?" Kelley told Bannon. "There's threats to our Supreme Court justices. That's the real insurrection, if you want to look at an insurrection."

Kelley also claimed without evidence that because of his arrest, his support in Michigan had "tenfold grown," and that they had "just handed me the governor's seat in Michigan. Not only are some of these people going to go to jail, we're going to turn our state around and we are going to be leading this nation in freedom."

A judge released Kelley on his own recognizance on June 9, and a court date is set for June 16.

Bannon also spoke with Doug Mastriano, the GOP nominee for Pennsylvania governor who was also in attendance at the Jan. 6 insurrection, in the same episode. On Monday, Mastriano's campaign announced it had hired Jenna Ellis — a former member of Trump's legal team who aided his campaign's efforts to overturn the election — as a legal adviser.

Chiropractor Garrett Soldano and conservative pundit Tudor Dixon — two of Kelley's GOP primary opponents in the race to unseat Michigan Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer — expressed outrage at Kelley's arrest, called into question its timing coinciding with the House of Representatives' investigation into the insurrection, and claimed that the nation's top law enforcement agency was acting as an "arm of the Democratic Party."

On Monday, at hearings held by the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, attacks, the committee heard testimony to the effect that Trump's campaign advisers told him that election fraud claims in Michigan — including the rumors surrounding ballot dumping at the TCF Center in Detroit, and allegations of foul play in the counting of ballots in Antrim County — were false.

While there have been many audits of the 2020 Michigan election, none have provided proof of serious fraud. There are currently multiple investigations ongoing into attempts to interfere with the election. So far, 15 Michigan residents have been charged with participation in the Jan. 6, 2021, riots.

Earlier this month, Politico reported that the Republican National Committee is recruiting "an army" of partisan volunteers to become poll workers ahead of the November midterm elections so they can oversee voting and dispute election results in real-time — particularly in Democratic districts.

"It's going to be an army," Matthew Seifried, the RNC's election integrity director for Michigan, said at a training session last October, according to recordings obtained by Politico. "We're going to have more lawyers than we've ever recruited, because let's be honest, that's where it’s going to be fought, right?"

Michigan Department of State spokesperson Tracy Wimmer told the American Independent Foundation that an influx of partisan poll workers could pose a threat to the state's free and fair elections.

"What is concerning about recent reporting is the suggestion that those training election workers are feeding them misinformation and lies that could possibly lead them to break the law and infringe citizens' constitutional voting rights," Wimmer said in a statement.

Sharon Dolente, a senior advisor to Promote The Vote Michigan, said that election officials are familiar with such attempts to "observe" polling stations, adding that it happened in 2020. Still, the prevalence of election deniers on the ballot this fall could create challenges for poll workers by riling up a part of the electorate to expect foul play, Dolente added.

"The regulation of this very coordinated program with what appears to be a very inappropriate intention about what these individuals are to be doing," Dolente told the American Independent Foundation. "This problem is on a scale that I don't think we've seen before."

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.