Spurred on by conspiracy theories about the 2020 presidential election, activists across the country are using laws that allow people to challenge a voter’s right to cast a vote to contest the registrations of thousands of voters at once.
In Iowa, Linn County accountant Joel Miller had handled three voter challenges in the past 15 years. He received 119 in just two days after Doug Frank, an Ohio educator who travels the country and sows doubts about the 2020 election, swung through the state.
In northern Florida’s Nassau County, two residents contested the registration of nearly 2,000 voters just six days before last month’s primary. In Georgia, activists are dropping boxes full of challenges in the diverse and democratically oriented counties that comprise the Atlanta metro area, including more than 35,000 in one county as of late last month.
Election officials say the vast majority of challenges will be irrelevant as they contest the presence on the voting lists of people who are already being expelled after they leave the region. Still, they may be creating hundreds of hours of extra work as the offices rush to prepare for the November election.
“At best they tax election officials in the run-up to an election, and at worst they lead to people being removed from the list when they shouldn’t,” said Sean Morales-Doyle of The Brennan Center for justice. followed an uptick in voter challenges.
The voter challenges come as activists who believe in former President Donald Trump’s election lies have also flooded election offices across the country with requests from public records and threats of lawsuits, piling even more work on them as they get ready for November.
“It’s time-consuming for us because we have to talk to our county attorneys about what the appropriate response will be,” said Rachel Rodriguez, an election supervisor in Dane County, Wisconsin, which includes Madison, the state capital.
About two weeks ago, she received duplicate emails demanding records: “It takes precious time that we as election officials don’t necessarily have as we try to prepare for elections in November.”
Michael Henrici, the Democratic election commissioner in New York’s Otsego County, received a one-line email last week warning of unspecified “election integrity” lawsuits, followed by a follow-up complaining that he hadn’t responded. .
“These are not people with specific grievances,” Henrici said. “They get a form letter from someone’s podcast and sometimes fill in the blanks.”
Multiple investigations and assessments, including one by Trump’s own Justice Department, found no significant fraud in the 2020 presidential election, and courts dismissed dozens of lawsuits filed by Trump and his allies. But Trump continued to insist that widespread fraud cost him reelection. That has inspired legions of activists to become do-it-yourself election sleuths across the country, challenging local voters at every turn.
In Linn County, Iowa, which includes the city of Cedar Rapids, Miller said he and the auditors conducting elections in the state’s other 98 counties have been inundated with both record requests and voter challenges.
“The whole barrage came over a two-week period,” Miller said, following the tour by Frank, who uses mathematical projections to make claims about a massive conspiracy to steal Trump’s election, “and it’s happening to auditors. throughout the state.”
Election bureaus routinely go through their electoral rolls and remove those who have moved or died. Federal law limits how quickly they can drop voters, and conservative activists have long complained that election officials don’t act fast enough to clear their lists.
The recent challenges stem from activists comparing postal address changes and other databases to voter lists. Election officials say this is unnecessary, as they are already taking the same steps.
Sometimes the challenges come after election conspirators go door-to-door, often in heavily minority neighborhoods, looking for evidence that the 2020 vote was wrong.
Texas’ heavily Democratic Harris County, which includes Houston, received nearly 5,000 challenges from a conservative group that went door-to-door checking voters’ addresses. The polling office said it rejected the challenges it must legally assess before the election and will finalize the rest after Nov. 8.
Activists in Gwinnett County, which spans Atlanta’s increasingly Democratic northern suburbs, have spent 10 months comparing address changes and other databases with the county’s voter lists. They turned in eight boxes of challenges last month. About 15,000, they said, were complaints that specific voters in 2020 incorrectly received ballots in the mail. Another 22,000 were for voters they claim are no longer at their registered address.
There are so many challenges that election officials haven’t even counted them all yet. But Zach Manifold, Gwinnett’s election supervisor, said that in every postal ballot complaint the office has collected, the voter correctly received a ballot in the mail.
But if one of the voters with a burdened address tries to cast a vote in November, the county election council must decide whether that vote should count. They have only six days to make a decision, as Georgia law requires them to confirm their vote total by the Monday following election day.
Manifold estimated that his office has a month to log and examine the challenges before the November election ballots go out: “It’s a tight time to get everything done,” he said.
Many of the major counties dealing with electoral rolls are places where President Joe Biden defeated Trump in 2020, including Gwinnett and Harris. But those behind the effort dispute the idea that they are targeting democratically oriented counties, saying they are working on behalf of all voters. For example, in Florida’s Nassau County, Trump won with more than 72% of the vote.
“They should be happy that voter rolls are being cleaned so they can make sure their votes count,” said Garland Favorito, a conservative activist who works with supporters of Trump’s election lies and helps with voter challenges in Georgia.
Favorito said more challenges are coming in other Georgia counties.
Under legislation passed last year by the Republican-controlled legislature, there are no limits to the number of voter challenges that can be filed in Georgia. Most states implicitly put limits on challenges, said Morales-Doyle of the Brennan Center. They require a complainant to have specific, personal information about the voters they target and punish for making frivolous challenges.
Florida is an example. The Voter Challenge Act only allows the filing of challenges 30 days before an election, requiring election officials to contact any voter challenged before Election Day. It is a crime to submit a “frivolous” challenge. But voter challenges nearly derailed Florida’s primaries last month in heavily Republican Nassau County, in the northeastern part of the state.
Two women who belonged to a conservative group, County Citizens Defending Freedom, delivered the nearly 2,000 challenges to the district election office six days before the Aug. 23 primaries.
Fortunately for the office, the challenges had been submitted in an incorrect format. Election supervisor Janet Adkins told activists that they would judge them anyway — after the primaries.
“To deprive someone of the right to vote is a very serious matter,” Adkins said.
Holly Ramer in Concord, New Hampshire, contributed to this report.