MILWAUKEE — Milwaukee’s top elections official interviewed about 20 poll workers gathered in a city hall classroom crammed with election supplies, then spoke candidly about the tense environment they may face next week as the city expects their jobs to be watch more people than ever before.
“So who cares about observer failures?” Claire Woodall-Vaugh, director of the Milwaukee Board of Elections, asked the group. “Who has read or heard something on the news that makes you a little nervous? I. I’ll raise my hand,” she said, smiling.
Some workers also raised their hands. They’re not alone in their concerns, with election officials across the country bracing for confrontational election monitors fueled by lies about the legitimacy of the 2020 election being peddled by former President Donald Trump and others, even after repeated polls confirmed Trump’s loss. audits and recounts votes, and courts reject legal challenges.
Those tensions are higher in several battleground states like Wisconsin, where Trump and others have been quick to accuse of fraud after late results from Democratic-dominated Milwaukee helped Joe Biden win the state in 2020. The recounts of votes, which Trump demanded, confirmed the victory of Biden.
Woodall-Vogg has already felt the pressure. In an interview, she said that after the election, she was harassed and threatened via email, phone calls and letters home – threats so serious that she was assigned an FBI agent to handle them.
However, Woodall-Vaughn said she would rather be the target than her workers – some of whom have stepped down from management positions because of the pressure.
“We’re not paying them millions of dollars to endure that stress by any means,” Woodall-Vaugh said.
Election officials across the country are concerned about the influx of conspiracy theorists signing up to work as election observers, with some groups spreading lies about the 2020 election recruiting and training observers, particularly in states like Wisconsin.
Wisconsin only requires poll workers to receive training every two years, but Milwaukee is offering much more frequent training this year than in past elections, including informational videos and hour-long classes on specific topics, such as voter registration. The content remains unchanged.
At a mid-October session observed by The Associated Press, Woodall-Vaughn introduced an experienced group of polling supervisors — known as chief inspectors — who will be responsible for supervising workers at individual polling stations. Managers are paid a flat rate of $325 for Election Day duties that begin as early as 7 a.m. and can stretch into the early hours of the next morning. Non-executives receive $220.
As the training turned to how to deal with potential problems, Woodall-Vogg was careful to point out that observers play “an important role in our democracy.” But she also said she doesn’t want her workers to feel threatened by them.
She demonstrated how to tape off areas where observers can stand — 3 to 8 feet from registration and voter registration locations.
“Take your tape and say, ‘This is a spectator area,’ or make a field and say, ‘Please don’t leave this area,'” she said.
Violators first receive a warning; if they do it again, they will be told to leave. If someone refuses, they call the police.
Woodall-Vogg also told the workers how to address suffrage issues based on a voter’s race or the language they speak. Such calls are unacceptable, Woodall-Vaugh said, and should be dismissed as frivolous. A watcher making a second such challenge will be ordered to leave.
Some poll workers who spoke to the AP said they expected a conflict, but they were prepared for it.
“I have a calling to serve,” said Andrea Nembhardt, 70, who has worked in elections for more than a decade. She added: “I’m not afraid.”
Melody Villanueva, 46, said the same thing.
“I’m a problem solver, so I’ll de-escalate if necessary, and I’ll have to call the appropriate authorities if necessary,” she said. “I’m not one to be very afraid.”
Some workers admitted their nerves.
Averill Fletcher recounted how he called the police during the August primary when a voter — convinced he had been deliberately locked out of the polling station — threw chairs and threatened workers. She had to wait 35 minutes for the officers, who were busy elsewhere, firing a couple of shots.
Woodall-Vogg assured the chiefs that Fletcher’s experience would “never happen again”.
“If there’s an election violation, if someone refuses to leave the polling station and you’ve ordered them to leave, we have a direct line and there will be officers responding to support you,” Woodall-Vaugh said. chief inspectors.
Federal law enforcement agencies will also be on standby. Four assistant U.S. attorneys are assigned to monitor Election Day in Wisconsin and look into threats of violence against election officials and complaints of voting rights issues, while the FBI has deployed agents across the country to look into allegations of fraud and other election violations. US Department of Justice.
Thanks to increased interest, the city reached full staffing levels for the election with two weeks to spare, which Woodall-Vogg said had never been done before.
“It’s usually more panic, filling in the blanks,” Woodall-Vaugh said.
That included five times as many party nominees as election workers than in previous elections, but Woodall-Waugh said she wasn’t concerned about bad actors because the system is designed to prevent problems. There are always many eyes behind the shoulders of the election inspectorate: each task is signed by another inspector, and the chief inspectors supervise all workers.
“Anyone who might have bad intentions, we’ll be able to identify immediately, I think,” she said.
___ Harm Venhuizen contributed from Madison. Venhuizen and Savage are members of the Associated Press/Reporting Corps for the American Government News Initiative. Reporting for America is a nonprofit national outreach program that places journalists in local newsrooms to cover underreported issues.
Learn more about the issues and factors during the midterm elections at https://apnews.com/hub/explaining-the-elections. And follow AP’s 2022 election coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/2022-midterm-elections
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