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Wisconsin Politics

Wisconsin Republicans recruiting legion of monitors to observe polls, set stage for lawsuits

Molly Beck
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

MADISON – The Republican National Committee and Trump campaign plan to deploy tens of thousands of volunteers and attorneys to monitor and challenge voting processes in battleground states, including Wisconsin — an effort rooted in the former president's false election claims, characterized as safeguarding from "Democrat tricks from 2020."

GOP officials say they plan to recruit 100,000 people nationwide to observe election processes and voting, an expansion of typical activities for political parties in election years. The party's rhetoric surrounding the plans, however, describes the program as a solution to former President Donald Trump's 2020 election loss that has been confirmed in Wisconsin by judges, recounts, studies and audits.

"The Democrat tricks from 2020 won’t work this time. In 2024 we’re going to beat the Democrats at their own game and the RNC legal team will be working tirelessly to ensure that elections officials follow the rules in administering elections. We will aggressively take them to court if they don’t follow rules or try to change them at the last minute,” Charlie Spies, RNC chief counsel, said in a statement.

“The political team will be working to ensure a huge victory for Republicans at all levels, and RNC legal is committed to making sure that victory can’t be rigged.”

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The party plans to conduct training sessions each month to teach volunteers how to observe polling sites and ballot tabulation centers. In May alone, the party has seven "election integrity" workshops on the calendar.

"These trainings will equip volunteers with the necessary knowledge and skills to effectively oversee potential problems in the electoral process, guaranteeing that every vote is counted accurately and fairly," GOP officials said in a news release.

The volunteers are tasked with focusing on early voting, Election Day voting, absentee ballot processing, post-election processes and "logic & accuracy machine testing." A spokeswoman for the RNC did not respond to a request for details of what the testing would entail. "There are five areas of observation where we will guarantee coverage and aggressive attorneys will be engaged at all these stages to stop Democrat attempts to circumvent rules," the officials said.

Trump faces President Joe Biden in a rematch of the 2020 election, during which Biden defeated Trump by 4 percentage points. In Wisconsin, Biden prevailed by about 21,000 votes. The outcome of Wisconsin's election was confirmed by lawsuits, Trump-financed recounts, state audits, a partisan legislative review and a conservative study.

But Trump has continued to claim he actually won in 2020, claims that fueled an attack on the U.S. Capitol in 2021 and have festered in Wisconsin among the Republican base.

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In a recent training session conducted by state GOP officials, the party's election integrity director Mike Hoffman said a focus would be placed on Democratic population centers like Eau Claire, Madison and Milwaukee, and recounted telling one clerk the party would be "keeping a close eye on you," according to the New York Times.

A spokesman for the Republican Party of Wisconsin did not answer questions about whether the party's monitoring efforts would extend to non-Democratic-leaning areas.

Clerks in Madison and Dane County, where Trump sought to throw out tens of thousands of ballots in 2020, said they have not been contacted about the party's effort to monitor election processes.

Claire Woodall, executive director of the Milwaukee Election Commission, said she hosted Hoffman and GOP attorneys for a 90-minute tour of the city's absentee ballot tabulation center, known as Central Count, on the night before the April presidential primary election.

Milwaukee Election Commission Executive Director Claire Woodall-Vogg finalizes the ballot counting process by exporting results from tabulators, as election observers challenge the seal process of the USB drive on Nov. 8, 2022, at Central Count at the Wisconsin Center in Milwaukee.

Trump has repeatedly falsely claimed Milwaukee's process to count absentee ballots amounts to voter fraud because all of them are counted in one facility with totals reported all at once, often late on Election Day.

"We are always happy to answer questions about process, procedure, and ensure open lines of communication between our office and both major political parties," Woodall said. "As you know, we strictly follow state statute and there were no sudden changes or deviations from the rules in 2020. We were taken to court in 2020 multiple times, including by President Trump, and have always prevailed. I am confident our administration will continue to withstand scrutiny.

A spokesman for the bipartisan Wisconsin Elections Commission did not respond to questions about whether the RNC has reached out to the commission regarding their election efforts.

Ann Jacobs, a Democratic member of the commission who was chairwoman during the 2020 election, said the rhetoric surrounding the GOP effort is likely intended to appease Trump's base.

"It strikes me that what this is, is trying to appease a base that wrongly believes that there were improprieties in the election that can be discovered and prevented through this sort of oversight by lay people," Jacobs said. "And here in Wisconsin, what we know is we had an election and the votes were properly counted."

"Observers are welcome to observe," she said. "But the idea that this is going to be some sort of groundbreaking situation where they're able to find improprieties that are going to affect the election, just isn't going to happen. But they're welcome to come watch."

The Democratic National Committee and state Democratic party also monitor election issues, including at polling places and at the state level, according to Democratic officials. The state party operates a voter hotline and helps voters who lack photo identification to meet legal requirements to vote.

"Donald Trump and his Republican allies are running a large-scale voter suppression campaign to make voting harder and undermine faith in fair elections just like they did in 2020," Addy Toevs, spokeswoman for the DNC, said.

"Democrats will continue to invest in protecting free elections and empower Wisconsinites to make their voices heard in this critical November election. We won’t let Trump and MAGA Republicans get away with their dirty tricks.” 

Alison Dirr of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel contributed to this report.

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