PHOENIX — For months, conservative activists who tried to overturn the 2020 election results have urged Republicans to become poll workers so they can be on the front lines of watching for fraud. Yet for the August primary in Arizona’s Maricopa County, the number of Democrats working at the polls was 18 percent higher than the number of Republicans.
Such a gap is typical and legal, county leaders say, but Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel has seized on it in an effort to cast doubt on the way elections are run in the swing state’s most populous county, which encompasses Phoenix. That has angered county officials, many of them fellow Republicans, who see this as a new attempt to spread misinformation, erode faith in the voting process, lay the foundation to contest results should GOP candidates lose and unfairly focus attention on election workers, some of whom have endured threats and harassment after Joe Biden narrowly won the state in 2020.
The RNC and the Arizona GOP filed two lawsuits this week that seek to make the county shorten shifts for poll workers to make the jobs more accessible and force the release of records about who worked the polls in the primary. McDaniel mischaracterized the scope of the lawsuits in a tweet Wednesday, falsely claiming that Arizona Republicans have been “shut out of the process.” The RNC did not respond to a request to explain how Republicans have been excluded.
“This is a lie,” responded Maricopa County Supervisor Thomas Galvin (R). “Ronna Romney McDaniel is wasting GOP donor money &, more importantly @MaricopaCounty resources & tax dollars on a PR stunt thats using AZ’s court system as a political playground … I’m sick of grifters attacking AZ.”
As the Justice Department arrested an Iowa man on Thursday on accusations of threatening a fellow Republican Maricopa County supervisor after the 2020 election, Galvin referenced the RNC lawsuit in another tweet: “IT’S OPEN SEASON on honest election officials.”
The party has filed a similar lawsuit in Nevada and has raised questions about the party affiliations of poll workers in two major Michigan cities, Flint and Kalamazoo.
Each election season, election officials across the country hire thousands of temporary workers to help voters cast ballots during early voting and on Election Day. Arizona, Nevada and Michigan, like many other states, require clerks to attempt to have a mix of Republicans and Democrats working at each polling location. Getting exactly the same number of workers from each party can be difficult, especially in counties that skew more heavily toward one party, and clerks say that some who show initial interest in working the polls end up declining to do so when elections roll around.
Davina Donahue, the interim city clerk in Flint, said election officials made every effort they could to have at least one Republican working in every precinct for the August primary. She noted the city is largely Democratic and said some Republicans who had signed up to work the polls said they weren’t available for the primary. She said the city is making sure Republicans who want to work the polls can do so.
“We are trying to work harder to recruit and have more people from the Republican Party participate,” she said.
In Kalamazoo, election officials this fall contacted 54 potential poll workers from a list provided by the Republican Party. Of those, 16 responded and 11 were determined to be able to work the polls, according to the city.
For the Arizona primary, Maricopa County used 712 Republicans and 857 Democrats as poll workers, according to the RNC lawsuits. In one suit, the RNC alleged the county asks poll workers to work “onerous” shifts of up to 14 hours and often makes them work weekends. That lawsuit seeks to make the county relax its shift rules and establish a pool of Republican poll workers who can quickly fill positions when others quit.
Tom Liddy, the civil services division chief for the Maricopa County attorney’s office, said the claims against the county “are made up out of whole cloth and completely inaccurate.” Liddy said potential poll workers who are unvaccinated against the coronavirus might be turned away if they seek to work at a polling place in a nursing home that requires visitors to be vaccinated.
“You can’t sue Maricopa County for refusing to hire a volunteer to work in a nursing home if a volunteer refuses to follow the nursing home’s anti-covid-19 protocol,” Liddy, a former deputy counsel to the RNC, told The Washington Post.
Before the lawsuit was filed, the county planned to start releasing records related to poll workers on Friday, and RNC officials had agreed to the county’s approach, according to a letter Liddy sent the RNC this week. He asked the party to drop its records lawsuit and said he may pursue sanctions against their attorneys if it does not. The county began producing records Thursday evening, Liddy said.
Maricopa County officials said they had worked hard to give Republicans a chance to work the polls. They called it absurd for the RNC to allege Republican county officials were trying to keep members of their own party from serving as poll workers. The county is home to about 100,000 more registered Republicans than Democrats.
“We feel that we’ve done an excellent job of this. There is not a requirement that there’s exact parity,” County Supervisor Bill Gates (R) said at a Tuesday news conference, hours before the lawsuits were announced. “It takes all the political parties to run a successful election. And we’ve definitely had that focus. And I would say compared to previous elections, we’ve had probably better cooperation, as has been mentioned earlier, from the Republican Party even than in the past.”
Maricopa County Recorder Stephen Richer (R), who oversees the county’s elections, said the county has seen “more Republicans participate as temporary workers than ever before in county elections history.”
“We want to keep getting the right people to fit the right spots,” Richer said at the news conference. “That’s the most important thing, as long as it’s within the parameters of the law. Everyone gets the same rubric. Everyone has to abide by the same job qualifications. We equally apply those.”
The RNC filed its suits just before McDaniel visited the battleground state, where early voting will soon begin. Nearly all GOP candidates for key statewide office in Arizona have based their campaigns on false claims about the 2020 election and pushed for trying to reverse President Biden’s win there.
In the swing states that Trump lost, Republicans have tried to change voting policies, often seeking to reduce mail-in voting, eliminate ballot drop boxes and tighten rules on absentee ballots. Meanwhile, they have sought to recruit more Republican poll workers and questioned any disparities they find.
In addition to having a partisan mix of workers, many election officials are increasingly worried about threats to their systems, whether from outsiders or from workers themselves. Last week, prosecutors charged a western Michigan poll worker with felonies after they said he placed his own flash drive into a computer that housed voter registration data. A separate investigation in Michigan is looking into officials who handed voting tabulators over to those who said he was looking into the 2020 election.
Officials have also raised concerns about threats against election workers, which have been on the rise since 2020. Many election clerks have bolstered security in their facilities and, in some cases, have given poll workers de-escalation training.
Marley reported from Madison, Wis.
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