EXCLUSIVE: Grassroots Election Integrity Movement Sweeps Battleground States

EXCLUSIVE: Grassroots Election Integrity Movement Sweeps Battleground States
Cleta Mitchell speaks at the "Election Integrity Summit" in Harrisburg, Pa., on Aug. 20, 2021. (Courtesy of Cleta Mitchell)
Gary Bai

At 10 past 5 in the morning on Election Day in 2021, retired construction company owner Warren Jenkins pulled on his business-casual attire in a panic, knowing he had to get to the polling station in 20 minutes. He was the only Republican poll watcher in an important precinct.

Jenkins's wife, in a prescient move, had premade lunch for her husband, who managed to arrive at the polls to begin his 15-hour shift—from 5:30 a.m. to about 9 p.m.—just in time.

As a volunteer poll watcher in Virginia, Jenkins would run back and forth between the outdoor ballot box and the indoor voting site, observing the conduct of those at the site and reporting irregularities and violations of the state election code, if any, to election officials.

Throughout his life, Jenkins had been somewhat of a model American: He served in the Army, built houses, and loved spending his weekends at church and with family and friends. He wasn’t into politics, at all.

But as the battleground blaze died down at the conclusion of the 2020 election lawsuits, Jenkins still had in his mind the lingering silhouette of Zuckerbucks, whispers of faulty mail-in ballots, and alleged—later court-confirmed—flouting of election laws. As a proud American, he thought he could do more for his country.

“With the Trump–Biden election, there was so much press on the dishonesty in the election. I thought I would see for myself,” Jenkins told The Epoch Times. “I'm retired now—and I thought it was time to roll up my sleeves and to go out and to help out.

“I felt like being a poll watcher—even though we didn't get paid—was an important role. I didn’t really care about the money.”

A poll watcher monitors the counting of ballots at the Allegheny County elections warehouse in Pittsburgh on Nov. 6, 2020. (Jeff Swensen/Getty Images)
A poll watcher monitors the counting of ballots at the Allegheny County elections warehouse in Pittsburgh on Nov. 6, 2020. (Jeff Swensen/Getty Images)

Jenkins is one of many who were moved to help defend the integrity of America’s elections, following concerns that the 2020 election was not conducted well.

Some offered explanations for what went wrong in 2020—and some had substantial proof—but none seemed to be able to convince the courts to rule in favor of what they were proposing, which often consisted of flipping the election results for a district, or the Biden presidency altogether.

Many realized this, so they pivoted forward.

They formed a movement, driven by the belief that citizens should participate in the election process, to help give rise to transparency, and that accompanying the right to vote is the right to have every legal vote counted—and every faulty vote trashed.

From the Ground Up

Jenkins’s resolve to act proved fortuitous; just as people like him across the country decided to become more involved in elections, roads were being built to help them do exactly that.

Cleta Mitchell, who fought alongside former President Donald Trump in one of the lawsuits disputing the 2020 election results in Georgia, was getting a lot of calls—and a lot of ideas—following the election.

“What happened in 2020 was that many people across the country realized that things were not right, and that the election was not conducted according to the law in many cases,” Mitchell told The Epoch Times. “And so a lot of people have said, ‘What can I do to help? What can we do to make sure this doesn't ever happen again?’

“As somebody who spent a lot of time on a lot of different aspects of the election, I've tried to say, 'Here are things you can do: You can go to rallies and have somebody get yelled at. Or, we can train you. We can tell you what you need to do to make sure it never happens again.' And there’s plenty to do.”

Mitchell, a seasoned lawyer (and a Democrat-turned-Republican) with experience across all corners of election issues, leads the Election Integrity Network, a project of the Conservative Partnership Institute, a Washington-based nonprofit.

Since its launch, the network has developed into a nationwide mobilization base and knowledge-sharing platform that works at the national, state, and local levels on election integrity initiatives. These include pushing for legislation on voting security, hiring more poll watchers and election officials, and examining potential loopholes in election administration processes.

Through training and discussion “summits,” the network has kicked off state-level “coalitions” across the country, and these state coalitions have become the headquarters for mobilizing precinct-level task forces working on election integrity projects in those states.

“Ultimately, all elections take place at the local level,” Mitchell said. “We are asking people to become involved in apparatus at their local level, because that's where the elections take place. That's where many of the problems occur.”

Getting to Work

The Election Integrity Network started humbly with weekly telephone calls on which coalition leaders in battleground states would bounce ideas.
But things quickly picked up speed when Lynn Taylor, a regular on these calls who leads Virginia Fair Elections, saw that time was running short for her state.

“Virginia is one of two states that have statewide elections every year," with the other being New Jersey, Taylor told The Epoch Times. After seeing what happened in 2020, she wanted to help improve the security of the 2021 election. The question was how.

“The idea came from Cleta when she and I were on the phone together, and she said, 'You really need a summit,'” Taylor said, recounting her conversation with Mitchell. “I said, ‘I don't have the budget for that,’ and she said, ‘I do.’ Two and a half weeks later, we had a summit.

“This was very different from the way that things had been done. You know, people have been having summits for ages, but this is the first one [I've seen that was actually used] for training purposes.”

With Mitchell's help, Taylor organized the network’s first Election Integrity Summit in August 2021 in Virginia. The two-day event featured training and information for people at the grassroots level, on topics including poll observer recruitment, scheduling, training, and administration; how to document potential illegal voter registrations; and the alleged influence of private funding in the 2020 election.
A panel discussion on Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg's alleged influence during the 2020 election at the Election Integrity Summit in Harrisburg, Pa., which took place on Aug. 20–21, 2021. (Courtesy of Cleta Mitchell)
A panel discussion on Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg's alleged influence during the 2020 election at the Election Integrity Summit in Harrisburg, Pa., which took place on Aug. 20–21, 2021. (Courtesy of Cleta Mitchell)

During the summit, people who had already been working on related initiatives—improving security around the ballot box, analyzing election data for potential anomalies, or pushing for election integrity legislation, for example—found others scattered across Virginia who were working on similar things and quickly joined together in local work groups, called election integrity task forces. These task forces began collaborating on projects at the county level.

At the time of the summit, there were a little more than a dozen task forces in the state; in only a few months, that number had quadrupled to more than 50.

“I've been doing this for 26 years, and I've never seen people come together where they all left their logos at the door,” Taylor said. “They are more interested in the election integrity issue—and making sure that there are free and fair elections—than they are in promoting their own agenda. It is the first time I have ever seen this, in the 26 years that I've been working in the nonprofit arena.”

Shelley Oberlander, a Republican precinct captain for 10 years, was leading a local election integrity task force in the Virginia coalition. After learning from the summit about the kinds of projects that she could start in her own county, Oberlander started to expand her team.

She connected with other county-level task forces, holding weekly conference calls to share their experiences. Within a year, Oberlander’s team grew from a few members to six work groups, each specializing in areas of election integrity including legislation, education, data analysis, election technology, and voter administration.

“We brought it home, we put it into practice, and we got it going,” Oberlander told The Epoch Times.

National Effort

Another driving force behind the movement is none other than the Republican National Committee (RNC).

Emma Vaughn, an RNC spokesperson, told The Epoch Times in a statement that “the RNC and Virginia GOP are encouraging unit chairs to hone in on local election integrity efforts.”

In other words, Oberlander, as a part of the Republican Party, was able to utilize resources within the GOP establishment, as well as the Election Integrity Network, to expand her task force and knowledge base.

But the RNC wasn’t always able to do this, as its hands were only recently untied.

The RNC was legally barred from organizing and sponsoring ballot security operations like poll watching from 1982 to 2018, due to a 1982 consent decree (pdf) issued by Dickinson R. Debevoise, a judge appointed by President Jimmy Carter.

The consent decree meant that for nearly 40 years, the Democratic National Committee (DNC) had a structural advantage over the RNC in strategizing and developing election administration infrastructure in accordance with its vision of how voting should be done.

“Because of the DNC v. RNC Consent Decree, the RNC had been shut out of most election integrity efforts for nearly four decades, which led to a lack of institutional knowledge to conduct election integrity operations,” the RNC’s 2021 election integrity report reads (pdf).

After the decree expired in 2018, the RNC began building infrastructure around election integrity projects. This included spending more than $30 million on election protection efforts in battleground states across the country during the 2021 cycle, and continued efforts in 2022, Vaughn told The Epoch Times.

“The RNC has made a multimillion-dollar investment for the 2022 cycle, including 17 state election integrity directors, 35 in-state election integrity counsels, and in recruiting over 43,000 poll workers and poll watchers in battleground states across the country,” she said.

“The RNC works with other groups who have an interest in promoting election integrity, but the party’s efforts are independent from any outside organization.”

The Movement Ripples

The Election Integrity Network’s success in Virginia, which Mitchell calls the “Virginia model,” was promptly replicated in other states. By mid-2022, the network had held summits in eight battleground states—Virginia, Georgia, Arizona, Florida, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, and North Carolina—and mobilized thousands to start election integrity projects at the local level, she said.

“What we are focused on is building out the infrastructure—creating state coalitions and local election integrity task forces,” Mitchell said. “We really are measuring our success by the number of states that are up and running with statewide election integrity coalitions.

“We measure that by helping them bring together the various groups to have weekly calls, then getting their local task forces going and then getting a framework for recruiting and training poll workers, election officials and starting the working groups within each state.”

According to Marshall Yates, executive director of the network, the state-level conference calls in North Carolina, Michigan, and Georgia had about 75 task force leaders in attendance, and Arizona and Pennsylvania had about 40 in attendance.

Rep. Claudia Tenney (R-N.Y.), who heads the Election Integrity Caucus with more than 70 Republican members, participates in the Election Integrity Network’s conference calls when she can and has passed some of the network’s materials around Congress.

“We go through with a very methodical legal analysis, and that's what she does, which I really appreciate,” Tenney said. “We're trying to set the record straight, and come up with solutions. We just want to make sure that people feel confident and trust their vote.”

Uneven Playing Field

An important pretext for the project, according to Mitchell, is that the left has been building infrastructure around election administration and attempting to influence election outcomes with more effort and conviction than those on the right.

“We need conservatives to become involved and engage in the process—because the left has been systematically building their own infrastructure,” Mitchell told The Epoch Times.

Underlying this infrastructure-building Mitchell was referring to are two competing ideologies, one held by the right and another by the left, on how voting rights should be protected in a democratic society.

Improving access to voting and improving ballot security often come into conflict. The left leans toward the access approach, and the right leans toward the security approach.

“The voting system, by necessity, requires a balancing of these somewhat countervailing interests,” the authors of a 2009 paper published in the Yale Law & Policy Review wrote.

As evidence that the scales are tipped disproportionately toward the left’s agenda, Mitchell pointed to reports by the Capital Research Center (CRC), which alleges there is a “coordinated effort” by the left to influence elections via private donations and dark money networks, such as the Arabella Advisors, the Rockefeller Foundation, and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s left-leaning nonprofit, the Center for Tech and Civic Life (CTCL).

Arabella Advisors, the Rockefeller Foundation, and the CTCL didn't respond to requests for comment.

Notably, Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan, funneled $400 million via the CTCL to a network of nonprofits that sent advisers to local election offices across the country to become directly involved in election administration in 2020—hence the term Zuckerbucks.

Critics of the CTCL, like Mitchell, say its maneuvers are outright election manipulation. CTCL “consistently gave bigger grants and more money per capita to counties that voted for Biden,” the CRC wrote in an analysis. The CTCL’s advisory services to local election offices were often provided in conjunction with left-leaning organizations, such as the Brennan Center for Justice.

Open Secrets, a nonprofit research group tracking political financing, estimated in a March 2021 report that $447 million in “dark money”—political donations with undisclosed sources—supported liberal groups at the federal level during the 2020 election cycle, while only $190 million went to supporting conservative groups.

‘Something They Will Never Have’

According to Mitchell, despite the uneven playing field in favor of elites on the left, conservatives have “something they will never have.”

“Conservatives and patriots who believe in election integrity and the rule of law—the many volunteers who form the Election Integrity Network—will never have the money the left-wing billionaires have dedicated to building their sprawling election disruption enterprise,” Mitchell said. “We will never have the sheer number of entities that the left has built over the past decade.

“But we have something they will never have: an army of citizen patriots who love America, and are tirelessly dedicated to becoming an integral part of the election process at every local election office in the nation—who are intent upon saving and preserving our Constitutional Republic—that is the mission of the network and the thousands of volunteers across the country who are part of this mission.

“That’s why Conservative Partnership Institute is proud to have launched the network and why we continue to support and grow it.”