Video obtained by CNN shows Wayne County Republican officials instructing poll workers to act as “undercover agents” and counteract “bad stuff” happening in the election by “secretly” breaking rules regarding cell phone and pen usage in polling places.
The Zoom call happened a day before the Aug. 2 Michigan primaries and was hosted by the group Election Integrity Force (EIF). EIF was founded in the aftermath of the 2020 election by GOP loyalists who believe election fraud cost Trump the presidency. In August, Politico reported that the group, which conducts training for poll workers, observers and “poll challengers,” instructed their trainees to call 911 if they witnessed anything deemed suspicious at their polling place.
On the leaked call, EIF founder and former state Sen. Patrick Colbeck claims that “none of the constraints that they’re putting on this are legal.” His co-host, GOP county chairwoman Cheryl Costantino, advises the workers to “just hide” their cell phones, and to “hide a small pad and a small pen or something like that because you need to take accurate notes.” Costantino dismissed concerns from attendees that they’d be thrown out or removed from their posts for breaking the rules.
The call is not an isolated event. Michigan has become a proving ground for conservative election disruption strategies. Not for the purposes of ensuring a fair and free election, but to ensure their candidates win. In June, Politico obtained video footage of meetings between Michigan GOP operatives and activists discussing plans to create an “army” of lawyers and poll watchers poised to challenge election results virtually in real time.
Jennifer Morrell, co-founder of The Elections Group, described the problem to CNN as a “group of people operating on their own, outside of the statutory requirements and procedures” and warned that the situation “creates a recipe for, at best, tense situations, and at worst, escalating to violent confrontation,” given that observers “don’t need to see something that’s an actual problem; they could record or take notes of something they don’t think looks right” and escalate the situation.
Examples of this kind of misinterpretation and escalation can be found in the aftermath of the 2020 election. Poll worker Shaye Moss described an intense harassment campaign from Trump supporters who believed she and her mother had exchanged a “USB drive” full of votes while working at the polls. When asked by Rep. Adam Schiff during her testimony before the Jan. 6 committee what her mother had passed her Moss replied “a ginger mint.”
Michigan Attorney General Diana Nessel responded to the report with an assertion that anyone breaking election law “should think twice about it. You will be held accountable.”