In Michigan on Friday, a top Republican National Committee (RNC) official informed Republican leaders of the party’s plan to continue destabilizing elections with lawsuits and other efforts in the upcoming midterm elections.
As first reported by the Detroit Free Press, Josh Findlay, the election integrity director for the RNC, said that the GOP is planning to massively increase the use of poll watchers, who Republicans have been empowering through state-level bills. The party is also planning to majorly step up litigation efforts, like Donald Trump attempted to do in his efforts to overturn the 2020 election.
At the Mackinac Republican Leadership Conference in Michigan, Findlay said that the GOP failed in 2020 by not preparing litigation ahead of time. By the time Trump and his campaign filed lawsuits on Election Day, it was too late to affect the results, he said.
Findlay also said that the GOP strategy of unleashing a flood of Republican poll watchers on ballot counting locations, like the party did in Detroit, caused chaos that was later used against them in court. But the GOP is readying itself for the next election: In 2022, “when we go into Election Day, we’ll know exactly what to look for,” he said.
In a backlash to the 2020 election, Republicans have been working to expand the powers of partisan poll watchers and enact voter suppression laws across the country. Poll watchers sent on behalf of parties or candidates typically face strict rules on how close they can get to polling locations and what parts of the voting process they can observe or access.
Bills by GOP legislators like one recently passed in Texas empower such partisan figures; the Texas law makes it a misdemeanor for an election official to reject a poll watcher and allows poll watchers to sue election officials who obstruct them. Though the law requires them to sign an oath to not harass voters, voting experts say that expanding partisan poll watchers’ access across the country could lead to harassment and intimidation.
“It is telling that after the most secure and successful election in modern times, the GOP continues its attempt to undermine the rights of voters,” Sylvia Albert, Director of Voting and Elections at Common Cause, told Truthout. “The GOP has a long history of using poll watchers to intimidate voters, and now are attempting to protect this form of intimidation by tying the hands of election officials.”
Poll watchers were an important strategy for Trump in 2020, with the then-president asking the Proud Boys, a far right extremist group, to “stand back and stand by.” He also encouraged people to “go into the polls and watch very carefully” during the election.
The election lawsuits are another looming threat. Though Republicans lost all of the lawsuits they filed over the 2020 election, the GOP is making moves to take control of election boards and manipulate election laws that could help their chances. In Georgia, where Republicans recently passed a massive voter suppression bill, GOP lawmakers have been taking steps to take over the election board in Fulton County, where Atlanta is located.
The RNC is working to appoint election integrity directors, Findlay said, and has already installed them in nine states. Others could be appointed soon ahead of the 2022 election. It’s unclear what these RNC officials would be doing, but it’s likely that they would be in tune with efforts to advance Republican voter suppression and election destabilization across the country.
Voting rights advocates are filing lawsuit after lawsuit to combat overly partisan gerrymandering efforts, which Republicans disproportionately wield. But election experts and advocates say that lawsuits aren’t enough.
“The optimal way to go is for Congress to pass HR1,” Marc Elias, an elections and voting rights lawyer and founder of Democracy Docket, told the Associated Press in May. “We turn to the courts not as our first choice but as our last.”
Indeed, voting rights advocates have aligned themselves behind federal voting rights legislation, including H.R. 1, or the For the People Act, and more recently, the Freedom to Vote Act, a modified version of the Democrats’ marquee bill. But it faces Republican opposition and has exceedingly slim chances of passing the 60-vote filibuster rule in the Senate.