As part of the RNC’s effort to train thousands of Georgia election observers

Atlanta — A few dozen people recently walked into a neat storefront at a Forsyth County mall for a simple presentation on how to monitor surveys.

The crowd, a mix of mostly older voters and college students, listened intently as a coach calmly explained the do’s and don’ts of poll-watching and answered a handful of questions.

The Republican National Committee staffer’s ho-hum presentation wouldn’t normally deserve much attention. But in an era of polarized politics marked by false allegations of voter fraud promoted by former President Donald Trump, the new GOP push to oversee the polls has prompted scrutiny.

Democrats and voting rights activists have expressed fears that Republicans are training an army of partisans aimed at disrupting elections. Your concerns are not unfounded. After the 2020 election, Trump supporters used reports from some observers to reinforce false claims.

Now Republicans appear determined to reframe efforts to recruit volunteers to monitor elections, a process embraced by both parties and deeply ingrained in the state’s electoral system.

At the session observed by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, coach Jonny Moseley led the observers through a presentation that made no mention of allegations of voter fraud but gave detailed instructions on how to deal with perceived problems.

People attend a voter integrity training workshop held by the Forsyth County GOP in Cumming on Tuesday, July 19, 2022.

Moseley specifically instructed prospective election observers not to interact with voters inside or outside the polling station and to avoid confrontations. Instead, they were told to call a GOP hotline staffed by election attorneys trained to intervene.

“Never speak to a voter,” said Moseley, the RNC’s director of election integrity in Georgia. “We don’t want it to appear that anyone is trying to influence anyone to vote.”

The effort coincides with ongoing turmoil over false allegations of voter fraud promoted by Trump and his allies. An AJC poll in April found that about 40% of GOP voters said they lack confidence that November’s election will be conducted fairly and accurately.

The 2020 presidential election was not stolen. Three separate counts of the approximately 5 million ballots confirmed Democrat Joe Biden’s narrow victory in Georgia, court claims by Trump allies have been overturned, and bipartisan election officials have vouched for the results.

Republican officials say their efforts are already yielding results. The RNC has held in-person sessions in more than 30 counties in Georgia and has trained more than 1,500 election observers in the state, Moseley said. About 350 voting problems were resolved through a party hotline during the May 24 primary.

“A Long Memory”

Observing polls has long played a crucial role in the voting process. Both parties and their allies have monitored Georgia’s elections for decades to make sure workers follow the rules and flag lawyers when issues go unresolved.

And the Georgia Democratic Party, which has been training observers for decades, has expanded its voting rights initiatives after Republicans passed a sweeping rewrite of the electoral code that includes new requirements for voter IDs and new restrictions on ballot boxes.

But this is also somewhat new territory for the RNC, which has been barred from training election observers since 1982, when a consent decree essentially forced the party to rely on state parties and conservative-leaning groups to train volunteers to monitor polling stations.

After the restriction was lifted in 2018, the RNC recruited thousands of election observers for the 2020 vote. However, after the election, they attracted more attention with baseless allegations of fraud at polling stations in Georgia.

For example, Republican poll watchers claimed they were told to leave the State Farm Arena on election night 2020, but state investigators determined they went alone when they saw some poll officials exit the room. A poll observer’s claim that he saw a Chatham County employee mishandle ballots led to a lawsuit that was quickly dismissed.

In the training, Moseley focused on how observers can work to ensure electoral laws are being followed without interfering in the process.

They were told to arm themselves with a pen and paper to jot down any problems they might see because “it is better to have a short pen than a long memory”.

And they have been asked to look out for violations of state law, such as B. Election obstructions or examples of campaigning that prohibit people from distributing T-shirts or giveaways within 150 feet of polling stations and 25 feet from a line of people waiting to cast ballots.

‘Eyes and ears’

State and local officials see the expanded poll-watch efforts as part of a system already under scrutiny.

Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger’s office said the Republican was “rightfully proud” of Georgia’s electoral system.

“Anyone interested in seeing the basics of our voting process is welcome to see it in action,” said spokesman Mike Hassinger.

Nancy Boren, the director of elections and voter registration for Muscogee County, said her district boasts a “planned, coordinated effort to train bipartisan election observers after receiving input from election officials and members of the Elections Board.”

“I just see it as extra eyes and ears on the ground, with election observers from both major parties participating,” she said.

The Cumming training session attracted both veteran Republican volunteers and newer faces. Among them was John Longshore, a Kennesaw State University student from Cherokee County.

“There’s been a lot of blame and accusations, but I’m looking to 2022 and 2024,” he said. “I wanted to know more about the changes in the law. It’s my way of doing something about it – familiarizing myself with what’s happening in Georgia.”

The Republican National Committee reports that it has trained more than 1,500 election observers in Georgia and held in-person meetings in more than 30 counties.