Crockett is part of a national push to recruit an ‘army’ of activists to watch elections

The GOP’s presumptive nominee for secretary of state touts her involvement in the Election Integrity Network

By: - June 23, 2022 6:01 am

Attorney Kim Crockett was endorsed for secretary of state on Friday at the state Republican convention in Rochester. Photo by Deena Winter/Minnesota Reformer.

Kim Crockett, Minnesota Republicans’ presumptive nominee for secretary of state, is part of a national right wing network recruiting an army of activists to become poll workers, stoking fear among Democratic voting rights activists that they’ll seek to intimidate voters.  

The nationwide network is led by Cleta Mitchell, a Republican lawyer who tried to help former President Donald Trump flip the Georgia election results and has become a key figure during the recent hearings of the U.S. House committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol. 

Mitchell was on the phone with Trump when he pressed the Georgia secretary of state to “find” enough votes to win the state — a special grand jury is now investigating their election interference.

Mitchell is a former Democratic Oklahoma lawmaker who is now a conservative election lawyer who resigned amid “concern” at her law firm about the Trump call.

Mitchell said in a March podcast interview that Republicans didn’t pay enough attention to the mechanics of elections — from campaign finance to election laws — until 2020, when they were “awakened,” presumably by Trump’s frequent false claims of fraud and attempt to overturn the election he lost. 

Crockett said Mitchell isn’t new to her. “I’ve actually known her for quite some time,” she said of Mitchell in a YouTube interview with Max Rymer, president of Nativ3 Digital Marketing and a consultant to Crockett’s campaign. Crockett did not respond to a request for comment.

Crockett is part of the Election Integrity Network, or EIN, which is being run by the Conservative Partnership Institute, a think tank founded by former South Carolina Senator Jim DeMint in 2017 to support conservatives on Capitol Hill. Trump’s former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows is a senior partner, and Mitchell is a senior legal fellow at CPI.

Crockett said EIN meets twice a week, with the Heritage Foundation leading one meeting, and Mitchell the other. She told Rymer the RNC knows it “missed the mark” in 2020, and she’s been “blown away” by the humility displayed by RNC leaders who “didn’t listen” in 2020.

Crockett and Mitchell think their group helped Republican Glenn Youngkin defeat former Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe in the Virginia governor’s race last year.

In the runup to the Virginia governor’s race, Mitchell said she helped organize “task forces” and trained more than 4,000 poll workers and observers. 

“I know a lot about the task force that won that state,” Crockett told Rymer. “And I said OK if they can do this, we can do that in Minnesota.”

(A more likely explanation for Youngkin’s victory: He received more votes, as often happens in off-year elections when the other party controls the White House. According to Reuters, Youngkin won due to a wave of red enthusiasm: the number of Republican votes grew by more than 40% compared to the 2017 gubernatorial contest while Democratic votes increased by about 10%.)

These activists researched election officials’ social media and political donations to see if they were Republicans or Democrats, Mitchell said.

“It’s like being a parent: You gotta be there, you gotta be watching,” she said on the podcast. “You gotta be in those election offices. You gotta learn how it works and be there. You gotta be in those nursing homes, and make sure they’re not stealing the votes of elderly voters in nursing homes and homeless people — the most vulnerable voters.”

Claims like these of widespread election fraud were repeatedly debunked after the 2020 election by dozens of judicial decisions, Republican election officials in states like Georgia, as well as then-Attorney General William Barr.

Crockett suggested she is close to the levers of power in the movement.

“I saw Gov. Youngkin win,” Crockett told Rymer. “They won and I saw how they did it.”

Crockett has been pushing an “Eyes on Every Ballot” initiative and is recruiting election judges and ballot board members as she campaigns across Minnesota.

Minnesota Republicans, who haven’t won a statewide race since 2006, have also been recruiting more Republican election judges. 

Minnesota has about 30,000 paid and volunteer election judges who help administer elections. They greet voters, accept ballots and help voters who have questions at the polls. Although the major parties submit lists of election judge nominees to the secretary of state’s office, most are recruited by local election officials.

Local election officials — city and county employees — then train election judges and oversee them, while trying to ensure party balance among them, which can be challenging in heavily Republican or Democratic areas. 

Sen. Mary Kiffmeyer, R-Big Lake, hosted a training event in Buffalo that was advertised with a photo of Uncle Sam urging people to get involved, saying “Did you know that in the 2020 election there were 20,000 Democrat (sic) election judges in MN and only 3,000 Republican judges? Do your part to restore democracy.”

The DFL likely did recruit more poll workers than Republicans, but the office of Secretary of State Steve Simon couldn’t confirm those numbers. 

Max Hailperin, a retired computer scientist who consults on election systems, has said Crockett and other conservatives seem to think putting eyes on every ballot — as opposed to persuading more voters to support their candidates — will foil election fraud and flip elections. 

Hailperin said he fears if Republicans win due to typical mid-term dynamics, their victory will only bolster conspiracy theories that the 2020 election was stolen.

Indeed, the New York Times reported that at the urging of the Election Integrity Network,  conservative activists converged on Fairfax County, a Democratic stronghold, “combing through voter registration applications, undeliverable mail and other materials” and eating up county workers’ time with dozens of information requests and informal interrogations. 

The Times report continued: “On Election Day, Republican poll watchers in 13 polling places were observed being disruptive, hovering too closely or taking photographs, according to reports that elections workers filed to the county.” 

The Fairfax County Registrar Scott Konopasek resigned in part due to the bombardment, saying he’d never seen anything like it in 30 years.

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Deena Winter
Deena Winter

Deena Winter has covered local and state government in four states over the past three decades, with stints at the Bismarck Tribune in North Dakota, as a correspondent for the Denver Post, city hall reporter in Lincoln, Nebraska, and regional editor for Southwest News in the western Minneapolis suburbs.