In September, the people who went door-to-door in Shasta County, California, wore orange vests with reflective strips and badges that looked official and said “Voter Taskforce.” Four people who live there said they thought they were government workers.
But the people who knocked on doors didn’t tell people where to vote or talk about a candidate, which is what canvassers usually do before a big election.
Instead, they questioned people about how they voted and who lived in their homes, which may have broken state laws against intimidation and harassment, says the county’s top election official.
At one house, they talked to a couple about where their grown-up daughter was. At another, they wrote down the names of people who had signed up to vote and asked if they still lived at that address.
The incidents show how door-to-door canvassing, which used to be a normal part of American elections, has been taken up by supporters of former U.S. President Donald Trump since the 2020 election to prove his false claims of voter fraud or to try to keep voters from voting by making them doubt the voter registration books.
Pro-Trump canvassers are using their findings in at least 19 states to try to get election officials to clean up what they say are wrong voter registration lists, which they say could lead to fraud.
Providing voters with false information about voter fraud or voting requirements is illegal voter intimidation.
— Citizens for Ethics (@CREWcrew) November 1, 2022
At least in Michigan, they plan to use their list of supposed mistakes to challenge voters in the election on November 8. A review of the groups’ literature and reports shows that canvassers think their work is finding proof that voting machines will be rigged in 2020 to steal the election from Trump.
But activists often seem more interested in hurting trust in U.S. democracy than in making it better, said Stephen Richer, the Maricopa County Recorder in Arizona. “They’re hoping that we fail. They’re hoping that mistakes occur and they’re even trying to do things to disrupt the system,” he said.
In Shasta County, a rough, mountainous area with more than 180,000 people where Republicans who support Trump run the government, clerk Cathy Darling Allen said she knew there was a problem when three people complained about canvassers on Facebook in the middle of September.
When Allen talked to the people who had voted, they all asked if the county had sent the canvassers. Allen said that the people who came to her office had nothing to do with them.
According to a report from the Redding Police Department, a week later, a fourth resident called the police when canvassers came to his door and asked for voting information. This made the person suspicious.
In a public statement from September 26, Allen said that the actions of canvassers amounted to threats and broke election laws. “I was very concerned that it would have a chilling effect on people’s willingness to be registered to vote, and that’s not OK,” she said in an interview.
Election officials and lawyers for voting rights told that at least 23 state-wide or local campaigns may have crossed the line into intimidation. Election officials said that some of them had guns and badges, asked people who they voted for, or asked for personal information.
The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, which is made up of more than 200 civil rights groups, said it has gotten more reports like this than it did before. “These tactics are very concerning,” said YT Bell, an election adviser for the coalition.
In the Government Service?
Officials say that the visits can cause confusion because canvassers sometimes give the wrong impression that they work for the government, which is against the law.
Rupa Bhattacharyya, who works at Georgetown Law School’s Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection, said that the questions they ask can cross the line into illegal attempts to scare away voters.
Canvassers say that since the 2020 election, they have found thousands of wrong voter registrations all over the country. Officials in some states have been inundated with requests to remove these voters from the rolls.
In Delaware County, Pennsylvania, the director of elections, James Allen, said that his office had already taken off the rolls many of the 12,763 ineligible voters who a group that tries to stop elections says no longer live in the state. He said that the request came too late because federal law says that groups of registered voters can’t be taken off the list less than 90 days before an election.
The fact that republicans are already making false claims of voter fraud is evidence that they know they are getting crushed in the midterms. They can’t win, so they lie.
— Sarah Ironside 💙🌊 (@SarahIronside6) November 3, 2022
Some of Trump’s most loyal supporters have pushed for door-to-door campaigns. Mike Lindell, the owner of a pillow company, is a wealthy supporter of ideas about election fraud. He has hosted televised conferences where activists talk about what they found when they canvassed voters. A year ago, Steve Bannon, who used to be one of Trump’s top advisors, called for a “50 state canvas” on his podcast.
Douglas Frank, an Ohio math and science teacher and supporter of Lindell who travels the country spreading false theories that voting machines were hacked in 2020, has cheered on local canvassing teams.
Bannon declined to comment. Lindell said that the group he supports, Cause of America, doesn’t do canvassing but instead has a list of “voter crimes” on its website. Frank did not answer when asked for his opinion.
“A Good Bonfire”
Frank went to Shasta County in September to speak at a meeting of county supervisors on September 13. He wore a red, white, and blue bow tie.
A recording of the meeting on the county website shows that Frank said he would make a list of addresses to help local canvassers find “real actionable election fraud.” Two people at the meeting said they had already started going to people’s homes to find voters who had signed up illegally.
A few hours later, Frank went to a local church and told a group calling itself the “Election Taskforce” that Shasta’s conservatives had “a good bonfire going” and asked them to “throw a little gasoline on it.”
Concerned by Frank’s call for aggressive canvassing at the supervisors’ meeting and in his church speech, Shasta’s clerk Allen wrote to federal, state, and local law enforcement on September 15 to say that the canvassing “likely constitutes one or more crimes” under California voter intimidation law.
The county prosecutor’s office told sources that it was aware “of the recent concerns” and that “all potential violations submitted to the office will be thoroughly reviewed.”
“Met With Open Arms”
Nan Isaacson, an 85-year-old retiree in Oregon’s Douglas County, said she went door-to-door in her hometown of Sutherlin after watching videos on a Lindell-backed election-conspiracy website that said, without proof, that ballots in 2020 were changed in China to help Democrat Joe Biden win the election.
That made her want to join a local “voter integrity” committee, which gave her forms that looked official and asked people to swear “under penalty of perjury” to prove that they would vote in the 2020 election.
During a visit to eight houses in her neighborhood, four voters signed forms saying they didn’t get the right ballot or any ballots at all for the 2020 election.
Isaacson said that the people who lived there were happy to work together. “We were met with open arms,” she said in an interview.
Douglas County Clerk Dan Loomis said that voters had called him to say that the canvassers made them feel scared. One voter even called to ask if his office was behind the effort. “I don’t think the canvassers have the intention of spreading intimidation, but their actions can be construed as intimidating by some of the folks out there,” he said.
Sources talked to four county clerks in Colorado who said that a group called the U.S. Election Integrity Project (USEIP) sent canvassers that voters thought were county workers.
Clerks in Pueblo and El Paso counties say that voters told them that USEIP canvassers sometimes wore badges and carried guns in 2021. The county clerk says that in August, people from USEIP also went door-to-door in La Plata County. Holly Kasun, one of the people who started USEIP, told Reuters that local activists work on their own, not with the group.
In March, three civic groups sued USEIP, saying that the Colorado group’s door-to-door campaigning scared off voters. But a federal judge didn’t stop the activity because he didn’t see any proof that the canvassing was going on or that it scared voters. The case is going to court.
The canvassing is done by loosely connected groups of Republicans who support Trump. It is not part of the Republican Party’s work to promote candidates or change voting laws.
A spokesperson for the Republican National Committee told that it does not do election integrity canvassing and does not work with outside groups.
But at least one case seems to involve local Republican Party officials.
At a public meeting on Oct. 11 in Lane County, Oregon, John Large, who is the head of the county Republican organization, said that local officials were ignoring the results of their canvas, which they said found hundreds of suspicious voter registrations. Lane County Clerk Dena Dawson said she didn’t have the power to take names off the list of people who are eligible to vote on her own.
In Michigan, activists want to take things even further. The Election Integrity Force says it will send people to each of the state’s 83 counties to challenge people they think are not legally registered to vote.
The group’s director, Sandy Kiesel, who ran unsuccessfully for the state legislature as a Republican Party candidate in August, said that these election challengers will be given lists of ineligible voters based on their canvassing and voter rolls.
A person who wants to challenge an election can object to a voter if they have good reason to think the voter doesn’t live there or isn’t qualified in some other way. The complaint is then taken care of by the election official on site.
Michigan’s Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson told that clerks “are prepared to reject challenges that lack substance and eject challengers who repeatedly issue them.”
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Jessa Martin is the author of Nogmagazine, A professional in writing by day, and novelist by night, she received her bachelor of arts in film from Howard University and her master of arts in media studies from the New School. A Brooklyn native, she is a lover of naps, cookie dough, and beaches, currently residing in the borough she loves, most likely multitasking.