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False Claims, Threats Fuel Poll Workers09/26 07:06

   

   ATLANTA (AP) -- Outraged by false allegations of fraud against a Georgia 
elections employee in 2020, Amanda Rouser made a vow as she listened to the 
woman testify before Congress in June about the racist threats and harassment 
she faced.

   "I said that day to myself, 'I'm going to go work in the polls, and I'm 
going to see what they're going to do to me,'" Rouser, who like the targeted 
employee is Black, recalled after stopping by a recruiting station for poll 
workers at Atlanta City Hall on a recent afternoon. "Try me, because I'm not 
scared of people."

   About 40 miles north a day later, claims of fraud also brought Carolyn 
Barnes to a recruiting event for prospective poll workers, but with a different 
motivation.

   "I believe that we had a fraudulent election in 2020 because of the mail-in 
ballots, the advanced voting," Barnes, 52, said after applying to work the 
polls for the first time in Forsyth County. "I truly believe that the more we 
flood the system with honest people who are trying to help out, it will 
straighten it out."

   Barnes, who declined to give her party affiliation, said she wants to use 
her position as a poll worker to share her observations about "the gaps" in 
election security and "where stuff could happen afterwards."

   Nearly two years after the last presidential election, there has been no 
evidence of widespread fraud or manipulation of voting machines. Numerous 
reviews in the battleground states where former President Donald Trump disputed 
his loss to President Joe Biden have affirmed the results, courts have rejected 
dozens of lawsuits filed by Trump and his allies, and even Trump's own 
Department of Justice concluded the results were accurate.

   Nevertheless, the false claims about the the 2020 presidential contest by 
the former president and his supporters are spurring new interest in working 
the polls in Georgia and elsewhere for the upcoming midterm elections, 
according to interviews with election officials, experts and prospective poll 
workers.

   Like Rouser, some aim to shore up a critical part of their state's election 
system amid the lies and misinformation about voting and ballot-counting. But 
the false claims and conspiracy theories also have taken hold among a wide 
swath of conservative voters, propelling some to sign up to help administer 
elections for the first time.

   The possibility they will play a crucial role at polling places is a new 
worry this election cycle, said Sean Morales-Doyle, an election security expert 
at The Brennan Center for Justice.

   "I think it's a problem that there may be people who are running our 
elections that buy into those conspiracy theories and so are approaching their 
role as fighting back against rampant fraud," he said.

   But he also cautioned that there are numerous safeguards to prevent a single 
poll worker from disrupting voting or trying to manipulate the results.

   The Associated Press talked to roughly two dozen prospective poll workers in 
September during three recruiting events in two Georgia counties -- Fulton 
County, which includes most of Atlanta and where more than 70 percent of voters 
cast a ballot for Biden, and Forsyth County north of Atlanta, where support for 
Trump topped 65 percent.

   About half said the 2020 election was a factor in their decision to try to 
become a poll worker.

   "We don't want Donald Trump bullying people," said Priscilla Ficklin, a 
Democrat, while taking an application at Atlanta City Hall to be a Fulton 
County poll worker. "I'm going to stand up for the people who are afraid."

   Carlette Dryden said she showed up to vote in Forsyth County in 2020 only to 
be told that she had already cast a mail-in ballot. She said elections 
officials let her cast a ballot later, but she suspects someone fraudulently 
voted in her name and believes her experience reflects broader problems with 
the vote across the country.

   Still, she said her role was not to police voters or root out fraud.

   "What I'm signing up to do is to help others that are coming through here 
that may need assistance or questions answered," she said.

   Georgia was a focus of Trump's attempts to undo his 2020 election defeat to 
Biden. He pressured the state's Republican secretary of state in a January 2021 
phone call to "find" enough votes to overturn Biden's victory in the state and 
seized on surveillance footage to accuse the Black elections worker, Wandrea 
Moss, and her mother, Ruby Freeman, of pulling out suitcases of fraudulent 
votes in Fulton County. The allegation was quickly knocked down, but still 
spread widely through conservative media.

   Moss told the House Jan. 6 committee that she received death threats and 
racist messages.

   At a farmer's market in the politically mixed suburb of Alpharetta north of 
Atlanta, Deborah Eves said she was concerned about being harassed for working 
at a voting site but still felt compelled to sign up.

   A substitute teacher and Democrat, Eves visited a recruiting booth set up by 
Fulton County officials next to stands selling single origin coffee, honey and 
empanadas.

   "I feel like our government is 'we the people, and 'we the people' need to 
step up and do things like poll working so that we can show that nobody's 
cheating, nobody's trying to do the wrong thing here," she said.

   Allison Saunders, who worked at a voting site for the first time during the 
state's May primary, said she believes Moss and Freeman were targeted because 
they are Black. Saunders, a Democrat, was visiting the farmer's market with her 
son.

   "More people that look like me need to step up and do our part," said 
Saunders, who is white. "I think it's more important to do your civic duty than 
to be afraid."

   Threats after the 2020 election contributed to an exodus of full-time 
elections officials around the country. Recruiters say they have not seen a 
similar drop in people who have previously done poll work -- temporary jobs 
open to local residents during election season. But some larger counties around 
the country have reported that they are struggling to fill those positions.

   Working the polls has long been viewed as an apolitical civic duty. For 
first-time workers, it generally involves setting up voting machines, greeting 
voters, checking that they are registered and answering questions about the 
voting process.

   Elections staff in the U.S. generally do not vet the political views of 
prospective poll workers deeply, although most states have requirements that 
seek to have a mix of Democratic and Republican poll workers at each voting 
location.

   Forsyth County's elections director, Mandi Smith, said she was not worried 
about having people who believe the last presidential election was fraudulent 
serve as poll workers. The county provides training that emphasizes the 
positions are nonpartisan and that workers must follow certain rules.

   "It's a very team-driven process, as well, in the sense that there are 
multiple poll workers there and you are generally not working alone," she said.

   Ginger Aldrich, who attended the county's recruiting event, said she knows 
people who believe the last election was stolen from Trump. Their views made 
her curious about what she described as the "mysterious" aspects of the voting 
process, such as where ballots go after they leave the voting site.

   "There's going to be some people that are unscrupulous, and they are going 
to spend all this time figuring out how to beat the system," said Aldrich, who 
is retired.

   While she believes there is fraud in elections, she said she was willing to 
use her experience as a poll worker to try to convince people that there were 
no problems in her county with the midterm elections.

 
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