False Claims, Threats Fuel Poll Workers09/26 07:06
ATLANTA (AP) -- Outraged by false allegations of fraud against a Georgia
elections employee in 2020, Amanda Rouser made a vow as she listened to the
woman testify before Congress in June about the racist threats and harassment
"I said that day to myself, 'I'm going to go work in the polls, and I'm
going to see what they're going to do to me,'" Rouser, who like the targeted
employee is Black, recalled after stopping by a recruiting station for poll
workers at Atlanta City Hall on a recent afternoon. "Try me, because I'm not
scared of people."
About 40 miles north a day later, claims of fraud also brought Carolyn
Barnes to a recruiting event for prospective poll workers, but with a different
"I believe that we had a fraudulent election in 2020 because of the mail-in
ballots, the advanced voting," Barnes, 52, said after applying to work the
polls for the first time in Forsyth County. "I truly believe that the more we
flood the system with honest people who are trying to help out, it will
straighten it out."
Barnes, who declined to give her party affiliation, said she wants to use
her position as a poll worker to share her observations about "the gaps" in
election security and "where stuff could happen afterwards."
Nearly two years after the last presidential election, there has been no
evidence of widespread fraud or manipulation of voting machines. Numerous
reviews in the battleground states where former President Donald Trump disputed
his loss to President Joe Biden have affirmed the results, courts have rejected
dozens of lawsuits filed by Trump and his allies, and even Trump's own
Department of Justice concluded the results were accurate.
Nevertheless, the false claims about the the 2020 presidential contest by
the former president and his supporters are spurring new interest in working
the polls in Georgia and elsewhere for the upcoming midterm elections,
according to interviews with election officials, experts and prospective poll
Like Rouser, some aim to shore up a critical part of their state's election
system amid the lies and misinformation about voting and ballot-counting. But
the false claims and conspiracy theories also have taken hold among a wide
swath of conservative voters, propelling some to sign up to help administer
elections for the first time.
The possibility they will play a crucial role at polling places is a new
worry this election cycle, said Sean Morales-Doyle, an election security expert
at The Brennan Center for Justice.
"I think it's a problem that there may be people who are running our
elections that buy into those conspiracy theories and so are approaching their
role as fighting back against rampant fraud," he said.
But he also cautioned that there are numerous safeguards to prevent a single
poll worker from disrupting voting or trying to manipulate the results.
The Associated Press talked to roughly two dozen prospective poll workers in
September during three recruiting events in two Georgia counties -- Fulton
County, which includes most of Atlanta and where more than 70 percent of voters
cast a ballot for Biden, and Forsyth County north of Atlanta, where support for
Trump topped 65 percent.
About half said the 2020 election was a factor in their decision to try to
become a poll worker.
"We don't want Donald Trump bullying people," said Priscilla Ficklin, a
Democrat, while taking an application at Atlanta City Hall to be a Fulton
County poll worker. "I'm going to stand up for the people who are afraid."
Carlette Dryden said she showed up to vote in Forsyth County in 2020 only to
be told that she had already cast a mail-in ballot. She said elections
officials let her cast a ballot later, but she suspects someone fraudulently
voted in her name and believes her experience reflects broader problems with
the vote across the country.
Still, she said her role was not to police voters or root out fraud.
"What I'm signing up to do is to help others that are coming through here
that may need assistance or questions answered," she said.
Georgia was a focus of Trump's attempts to undo his 2020 election defeat to
Biden. He pressured the state's Republican secretary of state in a January 2021
phone call to "find" enough votes to overturn Biden's victory in the state and
seized on surveillance footage to accuse the Black elections worker, Wandrea
Moss, and her mother, Ruby Freeman, of pulling out suitcases of fraudulent
votes in Fulton County. The allegation was quickly knocked down, but still
spread widely through conservative media.
Moss told the House Jan. 6 committee that she received death threats and
At a farmer's market in the politically mixed suburb of Alpharetta north of
Atlanta, Deborah Eves said she was concerned about being harassed for working
at a voting site but still felt compelled to sign up.
A substitute teacher and Democrat, Eves visited a recruiting booth set up by
Fulton County officials next to stands selling single origin coffee, honey and
"I feel like our government is 'we the people, and 'we the people' need to
step up and do things like poll working so that we can show that nobody's
cheating, nobody's trying to do the wrong thing here," she said.
Allison Saunders, who worked at a voting site for the first time during the
state's May primary, said she believes Moss and Freeman were targeted because
they are Black. Saunders, a Democrat, was visiting the farmer's market with her
"More people that look like me need to step up and do our part," said
Saunders, who is white. "I think it's more important to do your civic duty than
to be afraid."
Threats after the 2020 election contributed to an exodus of full-time
elections officials around the country. Recruiters say they have not seen a
similar drop in people who have previously done poll work -- temporary jobs
open to local residents during election season. But some larger counties around
the country have reported that they are struggling to fill those positions.
Working the polls has long been viewed as an apolitical civic duty. For
first-time workers, it generally involves setting up voting machines, greeting
voters, checking that they are registered and answering questions about the
Elections staff in the U.S. generally do not vet the political views of
prospective poll workers deeply, although most states have requirements that
seek to have a mix of Democratic and Republican poll workers at each voting
Forsyth County's elections director, Mandi Smith, said she was not worried
about having people who believe the last presidential election was fraudulent
serve as poll workers. The county provides training that emphasizes the
positions are nonpartisan and that workers must follow certain rules.
"It's a very team-driven process, as well, in the sense that there are
multiple poll workers there and you are generally not working alone," she said.
Ginger Aldrich, who attended the county's recruiting event, said she knows
people who believe the last election was stolen from Trump. Their views made
her curious about what she described as the "mysterious" aspects of the voting
process, such as where ballots go after they leave the voting site.
"There's going to be some people that are unscrupulous, and they are going
to spend all this time figuring out how to beat the system," said Aldrich, who
While she believes there is fraud in elections, she said she was willing to
use her experience as a poll worker to try to convince people that there were
no problems in her county with the midterm elections.