Republican National Committee courts election conspiracy theorists to help watch polls

The director of the Republican National Committee’s department for “election integrity” spoke at an online meeting hosted by two Florida activists who are close allies of the pillow entrepreneur and leading election-conspiracy theorist Mike Lindell, pictured above. Stephen Maturen/Getty Images

As the Republican National Committee ramps up plans to monitor the polls for illegal voting this fall, the national party is increasingly working with a loose network of anti-fraud extremists who have been found to routinely spread election lies.

The extremists also have close ties to the prominent far-right conspiracy theorists who tried to overturn the 2020 results of the presidential election.

The director of the Republican National Committee’s department for “election integrity” — tighter voting rules that prioritize anti-fraud measures over access — spoke at an April 4 online meeting hosted by two Florida activists who are close allies of the pillow entrepreneur and leading election-conspiracy theorist Mike Lindell.

States Newsroom attended the meeting, and video of it was posted online by the organizers.

It was just one of several recent episodes in which top RNC staff have reached out to large-scale purveyors of election falsehoods or right-wing extremists as the party recruits volunteers to guard the vote.

Election officials and election administration experts have repeatedly said there is no evidence of large-scale fraud or illegal voting in the 2020 election. Hundreds of lawsuits intended to uncover significant fraud have found very little.

The GOP’s growing outreach to these groups serves as the latest warning about the threat to this fall’s vote that could still be posed by the “big lie” that the 2020 election was stolen, election experts say.

“It’s one thing when fringe conspiracy theorists spread lies about elections,” said David Becker, an election administration expert who founded and runs the Center for Election Innovation and Research. “But it’s particularly disappointing to see a major political party give a platform to extremists whose testimony and statements have been found time and again to be false, and non-credible by the courts.”

“On the issue of democracy, today’s Republican Party is more irresponsible and more dangerous than it was in 2020,” said Marc Elias, a top Democratic election lawyer, in a statement that blasted the GOP’s effort to “court and nurture a network of right-wing election vigilantes.”

A spokesperson for the RNC did not respond to States Newsroom’s request for comment.

Recruiting volunteer voting monitors

At the April 4 meeting, RNC election integrity director Christina Norton laid out the party’s plan to closely monitor the voting process, especially in swing states. Norton explained how the volunteers in attendance, eager to root out voter fraud, could get involved.

“We don’t see this program as being siloed or separate,” said Norton, a former deputy director of the Republican National Lawyers Association and a veteran of Florida GOP politics. “This is a full partnership with the grassroots and the local activists on the ground.”

Soon after, Seth Keshel, a retired U.S. Army intelligence officer, began his own presentation, stressing that Republicans would face a challenge to overcome what he said is mass Democratic fraud in states across the country.

Based on his own “quick count” done before the call, Keshel said, five key counties in North Carolina saw a total of 150,000 fraudulent votes in the 2020 election.

There’s also “big-time abuse” in Madison, Wisconsin, said Keshel, who has made frequent presentations across the country, using comparisons of vote totals in past elections to falsely claim that the 2020 election was stolen.

Milwaukee, too, has a “big-time ballot harvesting scene,” he said.

As for Arizona, Keshel declared, the state’s two largest counties are “where the cheating is going on,” though Democrats are also “stuffing margins in the event of a close race” in other parts of the state.

“The corruption of elections is based on the corruption of voter rolls, and everything springs forward from that,” Keshel said.

Neither Norton nor anyone else on the call, which organizers said reached its Zoom capacity of 500 attendees, with around 1000 more watching a livestream, objected to Keshel’s claims, for which he provided no evidence.

Jessica Marsden, a counsel at Protect Democracy, a democracy advocacy group, said it’s become common for anti-fraud activists to style themselves as data experts, and to use scraps of information to build complex conspiracy theories.

“There’s this common thread of almost pseudo-science,” said Marsden. “These fraud theories have been totally debunked, but the aura of expertise that they bring to the effort seems to be seductive to some of these audiences.”

Claims about immigrants

To promote the April 4 meeting in advance, its two hosts, Steve Stern and Raj Doraisamy, used what have been found to be lies about the threat of voting by undocumented immigrants.

In a March 26 appearance on “War Room,” the popular podcast hosted by Steve Bannon, who served as a Trump White House adviser, Stern promised:  “We have so many illegal aliens in this country. They want to vote. We gotta stop them. We’re gonna tell you on April 4th how to do this.”

Bannon urged listeners to join the call, telling Stern: “You’re the best.”

A mass April 3 email sent by Doraisamy included a screenshot of a viral post on X charging that “8 million illegal aliens have invaded America under Biden,” and falsely suggesting that they’re being deliberately allowed in so that they can illegally vote for Democrats.

Thanks to this scheme, “the risk of Trump losing is now higher than ever,” Doraisamy wrote, urging readers to attend the meeting.

In fact, the claim in the post, which was also promoted by X owner Elon Musk to his over 180 million followers, is riddled with flaws, as the progressive journalist Judd Legum has shown.

Politifact has rated the claim that 8 million undocumented people have entered the country during the Biden presidency “mostly false.”

RNC courts fringe

In addition to filing a slew of lawsuits aimed at restricting voting, the RNC is planning a ground operation of volunteers to aggressively monitor the voting process.

A Trump campaign spokesperson promised in a TV appearance last month that there would be “soldiers — poll watchers, on the ground, who are making sure that there are no irregularities and fraud like we saw in the last election cycle.” 

Meanwhile, a leadership change has increased Trump’s control over the national party.

In late February, Ronna McDaniel, whom Trump backers had criticized as out of touch with the grassroots, stepped down as chair. She was replaced by Lara Trump, Trump’s daughter-in-law, and Michael Whatley, the former chair of the North Carolina GOP, who has emphasized the election integrity issue.

In an April 7 interview, Whatley avoided answering whether the 2020 election had been stolen.

Speaking on Fox News in March, Lara Trump pledged that the election integrity department would receive “massive resources.”

In recent weeks, the RNC has been at pains to show conservative activists — including those who have played key roles in spreading election lies — that it needs their help.

Gates McGavick, a senior adviser to Whatley and the RNC’s top spokesperson on election integrity issues, joined Stern’s podcast last month.

“We want to have open communication with the grassroots. We want to be providing as many resources as we possibly can to the grassroots,” McGavick told Stern. “Our election integrity department is a huge part of how we do that.”

And Christina Bobb, a former Trump lawyer who played a role in the Trump campaign’s “fake elector” scheme and was recently hired as a top RNC attorney, spoke with the far-right podcaster Breanna Morello last month.  

“The most important aspect of election integrity from the RNC is empowering the grassroots to do what the grassroots does,” Bobb told Morello.

Bobb also joined a conference call last month with several Trump-allied groups that have spread lies about 2020, the Guardian reported.

The RNC appears not to have publicized any of these meetings, including the April 4 event with Norton, on its social media accounts or its website.

But for activists like Stern, who were used to being kept at arm’s length by the national party, the RNC’s new approach is a godsend.

“I think the RNC is the most important thing here,” Stern told Bannon as he previewed the April 4 meeting. “We’ve never been able to do this with Ronna McDaniel. But they’re coming to us now because they realize the grassroots are the important people in this country, that are going to save this country.”

Ties to conspiracy theorists

The April 4 meeting’s two organizers, Stern and Doraisamy, both have close ties to Lindell, as do several of the other speakers, who have been key spreaders of baseless claims about mass voter fraud.

Lindell spoke at a March 11 event Stern organized, video of which was posted online, to raise money and recruit conservative activists, held at Trump International Golf Club. “There is no more important patriot in this United States than Mike Lindell,” Stern declared as he introduced the conspiracy theorist.

Doraisamy was outside the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, the Sarasota Herald-Tribune has reported, and went on to found a group, Defend Florida, that went door to door to gather thousands of “affidavits” from Floridians in an effort to show that the state’s 2020 election was corrupted by massive fraud. Election officials have said there’s no evidence for that.

At a 2022 event celebrating the signing into law of a controversial state measure creating an election crimes unit, which Defend Florida said was spurred by their work, Doraisamy thanked Lindell for his help with transportation for the door-to-door effort.

“We could not have been able to do that without your help,” Doraisamy said.

A 2021 Defend Florida rally included numerous Proud Boys, the self-described “western chauvinist” group that played a key role in the events of Jan. 6, the Sarasota Herald-Tribune reported.

Grassroots activists spread fraud claims

Another speaker on the April 4 call, Linda Szynkowicz, the Connecticut-based founder of FightVoterFraud.orgclaimed recently on Stern’s podcast that her team has gathered evidence of election violations committed by over 40,000 people across the country. “Most of them are class D felonies,” she added.

In Connecticut alone, Szynkowicz said, her group has found around 11,000 people that potentially can be proven to have violated election laws. She provided no evidence for the claim.

“I always have to say ‘potentially’ because I’m not law enforcement,” Szynkowicz added. “But we know we got ‘em.”

Also given a speaking spot at the April 4 meeting was Linda Rantz, who runs the Missouri chapter of Cause of America, a group that Lindell founded with the goal of getting rid of voting machines.

Another speaker, Jay Valentine, used initial funding from Lindell, the Texas Tribune has reported, to create voter data monitoring software.

According to documents obtained by the progressive group American Oversight, Valentine has worked closely with Trump lawyer Sidney Powell, a key figure in the effort to overturn the 2020 election, to convince lawmakers in Wisconsin and other states to use his “fractal programming technology” to uncover mass fraud.

“Voter fraud is a nationwide crime perpetrated locally, mostly by Democrats,” Valentine has written separately, promoting the idea of a national election fraud database. “We cannot fight industrial, sovereign, large-scale, election fraud with reports, press releases, and webinars.”

Yet another April 4 speaker, Marly Hornik, founded New York Citizens Audit, which she has said conducted an “open-source audit” of the state’s voter registration database.

“We have found millions and millions of registrations that are clear violations of New York state election law,” Hornik said last year on The Lindell Report, a TV show and podcast started by Lindell. “The database is being manipulated. We have hard evidence of that.”

Last year, New York Citizens Audit received a cease and desist letter from the state attorney general, charging that the group’s volunteers “confronted voters across the state at their homes, falsely claimed to be Board of Elections officials, and falsely accused voters of committing felony voter fraud.”

To those working for a fair and peaceful election this year, it all adds up to a major concern.

“Lying about election fraud is dangerous, plain and simple,” said Marsden of Protect Democracy, noting the Jan. 6 insurrection, as well as threats leveled against election workers. “Having a major political party sign on to those lies and lend them credibility is reckless and heightens the risk of violence affecting voters and the election.”


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