2022 midterms

Cleta Mitchell Is Training Thousands of Trump Loyalists to Monitor the Polls on Election Day

What could go wrong?

Photo: Travis Dove/The New York Times/Redux
Photo: Travis Dove/The New York Times/Redux
Photo: Travis Dove/The New York Times/Redux

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I don’t care what anybody says. You can tell me I’m ‘the Big Lie.’ Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.”

Cleta Mitchell had just gotten into her car from her home in central North Carolina for a long drive east. She didn’t want to talk at all — “It’s violating my principles talking to you,” she said — after so much of the mainstream media had, in her view, willfully distorted what she was up to, portraying her as nothing less than the intellectual godmother of an effort to rip American democracy from its very foundations.

Despite the focus of the political class on the many Republican candidates who refuse to accept that Joe Biden won the 2020 election, Mitchell has engaged in something more immediate: harnessing the energy of the angry Trumpian faithful to embed themselves in the guts of the nation’s election machinery, believing the apparatus of poll workers and election observers and U.S. Postal Service employees is biased against conservatives.

“We have to be in the election offices, in the election system, in the same way that parents need to be a presence in the school boards and in the school,” she said when we finally spoke last month of her mission to recruit thousands of election workers and volunteer poll watchers. “You can’t delegate these things to government ministers. You need to have citizen-engagement oversight.”

After the 2020 election, Mitchell started the Election Integrity Network as part of the Conservative Partnership Institute, a think tank that serves as a sort of Trump administration-in-exile. CPI, which has raised tens of millions of dollars in dark money to help Trump-related causes, wears its connection to January 6 proudly: According to a report in Grid News, the group and its affiliates employed at least 20 people involved in the Capitol riot and over the summer hosted a gathering with the theme “Hot Gulag Summer” that had cocktails like the Capitol Attaquiri, Insurrection on the Beach, and the Mostly Peaceful Mojito.

On a recent EIN Zoom call, a self-described “citizen researcher” named Ned Jones told those listening to go and “become a presence” in the local election office and to start sending in Freedom of Information Act requests to find out how their local polling place operates — to detect vulnerabilities in the voting machines, to find out who is hired as outside contractors, and to seek out information about the political affiliations of those contractors. Jones told attendees to go down to their local post office, too, to let postal employees know that they would be monitoring operations when mail-in ballots arrived, then do the same at nursing homes, where, he added, the 2020 election was stolen — a widely debunked claim. Jones told those listening in how to get a copy of state voter rolls, then to go knock on doors of people whom they suspect no longer live at the address listed.

“We had a very successful election in Virginia where we literally had an army of poll workers and poll watchers,” Jones told the group in regard to Governor Glenn Youngkin’s 2021 victory. “We got very deeply involved in the process.” That year, more than 3,000 Republicans were trained to swarm polling sites to act as election observers, often outnumbering Democratic observers by 2-1, according to the Washington Post. Youngkin, who made election integrity a centerpiece of his campaign, won in an upset by nearly two percentage points.

Jones said he was angry after the 2020 election and found as his salvation Mitchell, whom he introduced to the group on the call as Donald Trump’s attorney in the Georgia recount. “Unfortunately, for her being Trump’s lawyer, she was caught up in the cancel culture and actually lost her job in her law firm which she had been with for many years.”

Which isn’t exactly right. Mitchell, 72, had spent two decades as one of the leading Republican members of the bar in Washington, D.C., from her perch at the white-shoe law firm Foley & Lardner, for which she represented everyone from Elizabeth Dole and Rick Santorum to Marco Rubio’s super-PAC. But on January 2, 2021, Mitchell got on a phone call with Trump in which the then-president exhorted Georgia secretary of state Brad Raffensperger to “find” 11,780 ballots, enough for Trump to prevail in the state over Biden. The Washington Post reported on the call the following day, and two days after that, Mitchell’s tenure at Foley & Lardner was over.

“Finally, I had the opportunity to no longer worry about having clients or billing by the hour,” Mitchell told me as she drove. “That’s what’s so amazing. The left thought they had vanquished me. That’s why they go after me. They thought, Ding dong! The witch is dead. And the fact is I refuse to go away. And what they don’t realize is that they freed me to do something I have been wanting to do for the last 20 years. God made a plan.”

The idea that the other side is gearing up to fix an election, and so your side has to mobilize at the polling place to stop them, is an old one. In the 2004 election, a host of liberal groups like the People for the American Way and the NAACP embarked on an effort to recruit thousands of election observers in swing states. The previous election had seen poll workers holding up punch cards to the light in order to see if a chad was still hanging or not, while lawyers on both sides argued into their ear. Now, as George W. Bush ran for his second term, there were concerning news reports about voters, especially voters of color, facing voter-intimidation tactics, or being turned away at polling sites for not having ID. The feeling that the Republicans were going to cheat was hanging in the air.

Progressives were fired up to, well, stop the steal. I should know. I was one of them. I went to Arizona, volunteering as an election observer at a dusty polling place outside Tucson. What followed was one of the most boring days of my life. Thousands of people lined up to vote, and after they were done, all of us volunteers wearing T-shirts that read “You Have the Right to Vote” rushed up to them to ask if they had any problems inside the polling place. None did.  Volunteers who strayed even slightly from the prescribed rules of where to sit and what to say were asked to leave. If you were looking for action, hoping to fight vote by vote for the future of the country, you were in the wrong place.

There was still something reassuring about watching the machinery of an American election up close. When I passed by graffiti that was everywhere in the winter of 2004 that said “Bush Lost” or some variation, I couldn’t help but think, Bush did win. I saw it happen.

Which is to say that there is nothing on its face that is suspect about what Mitchell is doing. Training for election observers is often run by volunteer groups like the League of Women Voters. Typically, they complain about not being able to find enough people who want to spend the day doing it.

“I don’t think there is anything inappropriate about it at all,” said Al Schmidt, a Republican and former elections commissioner in Philadelphia. “They are there observing for their party, and they are observing for their candidate. Provided that the training is accurate and they follow the law, I don’t see anything wrong with it.”

But in the months leading up to the midterms, election officials have faced a barrage of threats and intimidation. In Michigan, an election official received text messages that included a picture of a dead and bloody woman with the words that it would “be a shame if something happened to your daughter at school.” In Texas a man allegedly posted a request on Craigslist calling for the execution of specific election officials in Georgia, and in Arizona the secretary of state’s office received a message threatening to set off a bomb there if the person in charge did not resign. Election workers who were involved in contested states of 2020 have seen their lives upended, as figures like the former president of the United States call attention to them. More recently, election offices around the country have reported being swarmed by arcane records requests, many of which share the same wording that the requesters aren’t even sure of the meaning of, something that officials believe is part of a coordinated effort to gum up the works as they prepare to conduct a midterm election.

Mitchell notes that everyone who attends one of their training sessions is instructed to obey the law. “We want it to be a positive relationship,” said Jones, who led the training in the video I reviewed, speaking of the relationship among his group’s election observers and local registrars and election officials. “We want to let them know we want to help them do their main job, which is to run a fair and transparent and honest election. We know that their biggest excuse to not do that is that they are underfunded and understaffed, and so we want to help them as a sign of goodwill.”

But it wasn’t that long ago that a number of Trump supporters, convinced there was something fraudulent in the November 2020 election, gathered together and used violent means to disrupt what should have been a pro forma process of counting electoral votes. January 6, 2021, was an unfathomable day in many respects, its perpetrators preying upon a fault line in our democracy that few knew existed but that also used the privileges of a democracy — the freedom of speech, the freedom to assemble — to nearly tear democracy down.

And there are people who blame Cleta Mitchell for it.

“Cleta Mitchell is the connective tissue that runs from the beginning of Trump’s efforts to criminally overturn the 2020 election results, through the setting up the terrible events of early January 2021 and continuing her election denial and constitutional-assault playbook through the present day,” said Norm Eisen, who served as counsel for the House Judiciary Committee in the first Trump impeachment. “Fortunately for our democracy, she along with Rudy Giuliani and John Eastman and whomever else assaulted the 2020 election were the gang that couldn’t shoot straight. But this time around she is trying to replace the refs and revise the rules, and we need to take this threat very seriously,” added Eisen. (“That’s a lie,” Mitchell responded. “There’s a narrative that if you think there were problems in the 2020 election, then you’re an insurrectionist. I reject that notion.”)

And the last several years have seen the rise of the “Independent State Legislature” doctrine in conservative legal circles. By this theory, which is slated to be before the Supreme Court this term, states have almost unlimited control over the running of their elections, and in a presidential election, state legislatures might be able to overrule the voters and send their own slate of electors to the Electoral College. If a couple of polling places are disrupted and need to shut down, state lawmakers have an easier argument to make that the whole election is corrupted and so it is the legislature that must determine the winner.

“There is some part of this that is calculated to undermine free and fair elections in 2022,” leading Democratic election lawyer Marc Elias said. “They make it harder for states and election officials to administer their elections and to set the predicate for them to then contest and challenge the outcome of those elections if they don’t go their way. You see conservative lawyers and party folks setting up the excuse structure to challenge the outcome of elections and to subvert election results by refusing to certify accurate results. And I think if we have a crisis in our country that we are headed toward, it is an election-subversion-and-certification crisis.”

People ask me what I do for a living,” It was 2013, and Cleta Mitchell was giving a lecture titled “How to Investigate the IRS” at the D.C. campus of Hillsdale College, a Christian college in the Midwest that prides itself on raising the next generation of conservative leaders.

“And I tell them,” Mitchell said, pausing for a dramatic beat, then continuing in her soft Oklahoma accent, “that I am the consigliere to the vast right-wing conspiracy.”

Mitchell, dressed in pearls and a sensible black suit, her blonde hair tucked behind her ears, was by that point one of the leading figures in the small world of Republican election lawyers. Mitchell quickly rose through the ranks of the GOP Establishment, serving as the attorney for the campaign arms of both House and Senate Republicans, then lurching right as the party did, representing the National Rifle Association and a number of fringier candidates and clients that other Republican members of the bar wouldn’t touch, dispensing, in addition to legal advice, campaign advice and even lending a hand in fundraising when necessary. The only clients she wouldn’t touch were those who couldn’t afford her eye-popping fees. “I believe in free enterprise,” she once told The Wall Street Journal to explain why she declined to represent Christine “I’m Not a Witch” O’Donnell in her first Senate run.

Mitchell had been elected a state legislator in her home state of Oklahoma right after graduating from law school, and a progressive legislator at that, representing the college town of Norman, co-chairing Ted Kennedy’s presidential campaign in the state, fighting for passage of the Equal Rights Amendment, and once bragging to an interviewer that she was “Ms. Education” during her time in the legislature for her role increasing school funding and teacher salaries. Before she turned 30, and despite being one of the few women in the legislature, Mitchell became chair of the state’s powerful Appropriations and Budget Committee. By the time she was 33, Time magazine described her as a promising woman Democrat alongside names like Ann Richards and Maxine Waters. In 1982, her marriage to Duane Draper ended. Draper, who had moved to Massachusetts, came out as gay, was appointed director of AIDS policy under Governor Mike Dukakis, and would later die of AIDS-related causes. Two years later, after serving eight years in the legislature, she abruptly decided not to seek reelection and married Dale Mitchell, the son of a former major-league-baseball all-star and the owner and CEO of a major Oklahoma City bank.

In 1986, Mitchell tried to get back into politics, launching a quixotic campaign for lieutenant governor of Oklahoma, and eventually moved to D.C. to crusade for term limits for members of Congress. Her timing was propitious. It was the eve of the Gingrich revolution, and the nation was in an anti-political mood. Congressmen, however, didn’t appreciate being told that their time in office would be arbitrarily limited, and congressional term limits were one of the few pieces of Gingrich’s “Contract With America” that failed to pass. Some states tried to impose their own term limits on members of Congress, but when the cases reached the Supreme Court, the justices threw the state laws out. Mitchell was furious. “When we won it at the ballot box, the powers that be went for a second opinion in the courts,” she said in 1996 in The New Yorker. “How can you argue for term limits in front of people with lifetime tenure? And then people wonder why voters are angry and disillusioned.”

Even though it was the Gingrich House that failed to pass term limits, Mitchell felt that it was Democrats who were more opposed to it, and so she became an independent. But her work on the issue drew her into the orbit of some of the major conservative donors of the 1990s, as leading right-wing foundations like the John M. Olin Foundation and the Carthage Foundation, backed by Richard Mellon Scaife, supported the effort, evidently seeing term limits as a way to limit the power of the Democratic-controlled federal government. Her shift from liberal firebrand to the barrister for the right had been catalyzed, in part, by what happened to her second husband: After his bank was declared insolvent, the government began an investigation and five years later, he was convicted of multiple counts of bank fraud.

“My husband is the most honest person I’ve ever known,” Mitchell told The New Yorker. That the government could spend years investigating him until they found wrongdoing convinced her that “overreaching government regulation is one of the great scandals of our time.”

After the Supreme Court decision, Mitchell went into private practice, becoming an attorney for whatever was the latest conservative cause, writing an amicus brief to the Supreme Court case that threw out many campaign-finance laws, pushing to limit donor disclosure, and insisting that American elections were riddled with fraud.

In 2000, when a brigade of briefcase-toting election lawyers descended on Florida to help in the legal fight amid the Bush-Gore recount, Mitchell made the then–Texas governor’s case on the airwaves. The experience, she has said, convinced her of “a very well-planned assault” by Democrats to change the rules on counting ballots after Election Day. Mitchell became head of the Republican National Lawyers Association and chair of the Public Interest Legal Foundation, an Indiana-based legal group best known for suing states and localities to purge voters from their rolls, and joined the board of the Bradley Foundation, a conservative behemoth with $1 billion in assets that has distributed grants to groups engaged in watching over elections, including True the Vote.

Mitchell also served as a lawyer for the latter group, which since 2010 had been pushing many of the myths about voter fraud that would lie dormant until 2020. True the Vote tried to register with the IRS as a tax-exempt not-for-profit, arguing that its investigations into alleged voter fraud were a form of social welfare; while the application remained pending for years, Mitchell raised holy hell. The conservative media latched onto the idea that the IRS was biased against all sorts of conservative and tea-party groups, and a top leader of the agency was forced out in what was one of the bigger scandals of the Obama era. True the Vote, which earlier this year was reported to have illegally been loaning hundreds of thousands of dollars to its leader, has never produced credible evidence of fraud. ​​(True the Vote denies illegally loaning money.)

In 2010, Mitchell served as a campaign lawyer for Sharron Angle, a far-right Nevada lawmaker running against then–Senate majority leader Harry Reid. Angle had said that man-made global warming was a fraud and that there were cities across America living under Sharia, and in the closing days of her race, Mitchell sent out a fundraising letter — already an unusual practice for a lawyer — in which she claimed that Reid was attempting to “steal” the election. “Harry Reid has been offering free food and, according to other reports, some Democratic allies such as teachers unions are offering gift cards in return for a vote for Reid,” Mitchell wrote in the letter, obtained and republished by the Las Vegas Sun, citing the specific Nevada statute that said it was a felony for a voter to be bribed for their vote and then attempting to raise $80,000 in contributions for Angle.

Mitchell remained at Foley & Lardner throughout Trump’s first term, representing Steve Bannon’s nonprofit that later came under investigation for defrauding donors who gave money to build a border wall. As the election got closer, Mitchell said, she got Trump’s go-ahead to start an “election-integrity working group.” Mitchell enlisted John Eastman, another longtime conservative lawyer in that effort; he later devised the scheme to send fake electors to the Electoral College count on January 6.

On the day after Election Day 2020, Mitchell was in Montana, where she had been helping out a client, Senator Steve Daines, in his reelection race, when Trump chief of staff Mark Meadows asked her to get to Georgia as soon as she could. A few weeks later, along with a staff of volunteers who called themselves “Team Deplorables,” Mitchell worked on a 64-page lawsuit that she says featured more than 1,500 pages of affidavits and sworn testimony about what she claimed were illegal votes cast in the election. The lawsuit argued that there were many more questionable votes than Biden’s 11,779 vote margin, so there needed to be a redo election according to Georgia law.

On January 2, Georgia secretary of state Brad Raffensperger got on a phone call with Trump, Meadows, and Mitchell, and the group pressed Raffensperger to, in Trump’s words, “find” 11,780 votes. Mitchell tried to press Raffensperger for data, and the president hardly let her speak.

“We don’t have the records that you have,” Mitchell said at one point. “And one of the things that we have been suggesting formally and informally for weeks now is for you to make available to us the records that would be necessary …”

“But Cleta, even before you do that,” Trump interjected, before talking about dead people voting, asking if Raffensperger knew what it means when something trends on the internet, how there were 56,000 suspicious votes, how he believed a video shows poll workers putting the same ballots in the machine at least three times, and how there was no way he lost Georgia.

I think what the president is saying, and what we’ve been trying to do is to say, look, the court is not acting on our petition. They haven’t even assigned a judge,” Mitchell said in exasperation at the end of the tape. “But the people of Georgia and the people of America have a right to know the answers. And you have data and records that we don’t have access to. And you keep telling us and making public statements that you investigated this and nothing to see here. But we don’t know about that. All we know is what you tell us.”

Except, they had been assigned a judge, and a trial was set for January 8, 2021. But the day before, Trump dropped the lawsuit.

Raffensperger released a gleeful statement — “Trump’s Legal Team Folds” that noted that “even in capitulation, they continue to spread disinformation,” while Mitchell, who insists that the legal process was unfair, was left to stew.

“We never got our day in court,” Mitchell told me. “And I will never get over that fact.”

I never said the election was stolen,” Mitchell said when we spoke in September. “I have never been part of Stop the Steal, and I have never said ‘Stop the Steal.’ I think the outcome was manipulated. There is a difference.”

Mitchell’s biggest gripe was what she called “the Zuckerbucks,” that is, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg’s $419 million grant to nonprofits in 2020 to address pandemic-related shortfalls in funding used for, for example, hiring more workers and buying more ballot-counting equipment. That Zuckerberg’s philanthropic arms included a couple of people who had worked in the Obama administration, including David Plouffe, who wrote a book titled The Citizen’s Guide to Beating Donald Trump, make it all the more suspicious. “They used that Zuckerberg money to exponentially drive up the turnout in Democratic areas in key states to overcome the Trump margin they knew he was going to get,” she said. “Joe Biden won the presidency and the Democrats lost seats in the House and lost seats in state legislatures. I don’t know why it is so hard for the media to put all of this together.” (Plouffe wasn’t involved with the grant program, according to Zuckerberg’s organization.) But her explanation isn’t persuasive. Trump lost the election while Republicans gained seats because he was uniquely unpopular, and many voters voted straight Republican except at the top of the ticket.

“Cleta keeps making this insinuation, but she won’t take it to court because she appears to know that it is completely without merit,” said David Becker, the executive director and founder of the Center for Election Innovation & Research, which helped administer some of the Zuckerberg grants. The election deniers, he said “are constantly moving the goalposts — ‘The election machines were hacked.’ ‘Well, okay, if the election machines weren’t hacked, then dead people voted.’ ‘Oh, we can’t find any dead people that voted, then it must be the Zuckerbucks.’ It appears that their goal is not to show that the election lacked integrity because they can’t show that. Their goal is delegitimize American democracy in the minds of tens of millions of people, and they have been remarkably successful at it.” (Mitchell responded by saying, “If we have an honest judiciary, and the time and the resources, I’d be happy to litigate any of these cases.”)

The meetings that Mitchell and her group hosts to train poll workers are, unlike ones by other good-government outfits, invariably closed to the press, but what has leaked out has been alarming. In one meeting this spring, Mitchell warned attendees that Democrats were trying to create a “new American majority” of young voters, people of color, and unmarried women. “And we have to make sure that doesn’t happen,” Mitchell said, according to an audio obtained by the investigative organization Documented and published by Politico. Mitchell also warned that Democrats have been “talking about [how] changing demographics in America was going to render conservatives obsolete.” She noted that Democratic-aligned groups like the American Civil Liberties Union registered voters — targeting, she said, “the most vulnerable people of our society” — by promising them that by voting, and voting Democratic especially, they will have their problems alleviated.

“They bring democracy to your doorstep,” she said on the recordings, referring to Democrats’ warnings about the erosion of democracy. “I wanna pause right here. We don’t live in a democracy … We live in a constitutional republic.”

Longtime colleagues and clients say that the Mitchell who was on the Trump tape is not one they know.

“It really makes me sad to see what happened to Cleta Mitchell,” said Rick Hasen, a legal scholar at UCLA who served on an election-law committee with Mitchell through the American Law Institute that was dedicated to the proper resolution of disputed election results. “Trump wasn’t able to get top-tier conservative election lawyers to represent him and for good reason: because he has no serious argument. I don’t know whether Cleta really believes this stuff or she doesn’t, and I don’t know which is worse, but there are no other lawyers of her caliber that are doing this.”

Some people who know Mitchell think she is playing a kind of double game. “We can’t have this situation where all of our voters think that who the next president is gets decided by George Soros and the head of the World Economic Forum,” said Dustin Stockton, a former Mitchell client and someone who later became one of the organizers of the Ellipse rally before the January 6 riot. “She is too smart for this. She knows that the election wasn’t stolen. I think she is just trying to get all the MAGA people to volunteer as poll watchers so they don’t think the election was stolen either and they come back and start voting again.” (“Yeah, that’s true,” Mitchell said when I put this theory to her. “If you think that there were problems in the 2020 election, come over here, I’ll put you to work. I’ll tell you what you can do to make a difference, so that what happened in 2020 doesn’t happen again.”)

At one point, Mitchell said she would not speak with me anymore until I read her Georgia lawsuit and watched the countless hours of testimony before the Arizona legislature on the vote there and watched a Citizens United documentary on how 2020 was rigged and read a book on it by the conservative author Mollie Hemingway. I did so, and what was surprising was how thin all of the claims were, most the results of shoddy research, coming apart upon even a cursory investigation. For example, the lawsuit Mitchell helped file in Georgia in 2020 claims that there were thousands of underage people who voted illegally; in fact, Georgia allows some 17-year-olds to register to vote so long as they are 18 by Election Day. The actual number of fraudulent votes by teenagers was found by state investigators to be zero. ​To me, she claimed that Pennsylvania had received more votes than it had ballots, a belief that requires practically making up numbers out of whole cloth.

Central to Mitchell’s understanding of American politics is that it is full of people who are bad actors and covert partisan operators. Nobody, truly, can care just about participation and seeing that an election was run cleanly. The League of Women Voters, which has for years been recruiting election observers and poll watchers, is just “the Plague of Women Voters,” she said. “Because they are a plague upon our elections. They are a partisan, hard-left group masquerading as people only concerned about ‘good government.’”

The League of Women Voters has a long tradition of recruiting nonpartisan poll workers and election observers; in response to Mitchell’s claims, the group says it “never endorses or opposes political candidates or parties.” Of course, in a way, it is an ideological outfit, in that it believes that voting should be encouraged and should be easy. And if there is one party that agrees with that, and one party that doesn’t, then even something as fundamental as the right to vote can no longer be thought of as nonpartisan.

When we spoke, Mitchell cited a study of nonvoters that revealed, she claimed, how little they knew about the issues and the candidates.

“I am glad those people didn’t vote. They had no clue about anything,” she said. “The left sees them as people who are capable of being manipulated so that they vote as a Democrat. That’s what the left cares about. They don’t give a rat’s ass about increasing participation and turnout.”

Well, I said, at least we can agree that voting should be easy and hassle free?

“No!” Mitchell screamed. “I wouldn’t say that. I would not say hassle free. I don’t think you should be able to register to vote within two or three weeks of an election. You should pay attention. Voting is a right, but it is also a responsibility. Accept the responsibility and find out what the rules are. The left will tell you that it is some kind of voter suppression if people can’t vote at three in the morning. Well, you know what? I think people voting at three in the morning are up to something.”

And while it is a long tradition to volunteer as an election observer, those who do so usually have the understanding that they are there to help the election run smoothly, not to stand watch over those working it, surreptitiously taking notes, as a GOP county chairwoman recently told volunteers at a training session in Michigan. While Mitchell has been leading training on how to volunteer as an election worker, she has also been pushing against rules that would govern the behavior of election workers. In North Carolina, Mitchell successfully fought proposed guidelines that would have banned poll workers from providing “inaccurate information about the conduct of elections” and would have kept election observers further away from the voting booths, which backers said was necessary to protect poll workers from harassment and aggressive behavior.

Mitchell insisted to me that there was no plan afoot to disrupt anything, that all of the stories of election officials under threat are overblown, a product of the FBI — “the muscle of the Democratic Party,” she said — setting up a hotline so people could conjure up threats, and that now the media is running with it.

If a plot is afoot to disrupt an election by causing chaos at polling places and sending it back to state legislatures that then decide the winner, it would be an awfully audacious one that would require thousands of people working in concert and without regard to federal law. Believing that such a conspiracy is in the works sounds like the same kind of thinking that led some to believe the 2020 election was stolen. It’s possible that all those who volunteer in one of Mitchell’s brigades will get bored and go home, maybe even with a little more faith in the electoral system then they came in with.

And yet Mitchell doesn’t think voting should be made easier. For three decades, she has been a warrior for whatever the GOP political class has rallied around as its latest cause — the Florida recount, virtually unlimited spending in elections, donor disclosure — and has likewise, long before anyone else, insisted that elections were rife with fraud. Now, the Republican Party’s biggest concern is the one Mitchell has been talking about for years. Her moment has arrived. She can slough off the concerns of the life of a corporate lawyer and be free, she told me, to do what she has always wanted. Mitchell told me she doesn’t think the loser of an election needs to concede — “What difference does it make? It’s a courtesy, it’s a tradition. It’s not fundamental to anything. It’s not part of the law. It’s not part of the certification process.” — and she thinks the country is crawling with political operators determined to undermine the vote.

And there are now thousands and thousands of people who believe this too and who are showing up at polling sites on Election Day in a few weeks. They are there to work.

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