Local clerks talk poll worker recruitment, preps for Michigan primary

Posted at 5:34 AM, Aug 01, 2022
and last updated 2022-08-01 10:38:53-04

DETROIT (WXYZ) — Local clerks and Michigan voters are preparing for Tuesday's primary, which will shape the party landscape for the November midterm elections.

The biggest race statewide Tuesday will be the GOP gubernatorial battle, to determine who will take on Gov. Whitmer in the fall. There are also several notable congressional races including a crowded ballot for the new 13th congressional district which stretches from the Gross Pointes to downriver.

Watch live press conference from Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson here at 11 a.m.

Poll workers are essential to any election day; they help ensure the process is accurate, efficient, and fair.

Related: Full coverage of the August 2022 primary election

7 Action News recently stopped by a poll worker training held in the City of Detroit, where dozens of paid volunteers learned their responsibilities leading up to and during the primary.

Tanim Khan, who's worked elections in the city before, was driven by civic duty to return.

“To help the community by being involved," he said.

Tanykia Davis is also returning for the primary. She remembers the last election cycle she worked.

“It was chaotic. It was a lot, but it was my first time," she said.

Detroit City Clerk Janice Winfrey, who is also on the ballot running for Congress in Michigan's 12th district against fellow Democrats Rashida Tlaib, Kelly Garrett, and Shanelle Jackson, said the city has trained about 3,000 poll workers to date.

For the first time, Macomb County is assisting local municipalities with recruitment for its more than 340 precincts, and helping to train more than a thousand poll workers.

County Clerk Anthony Forlini is leading these efforts and said there's been an urgent need for more poll workers.

“I think there’s an elevated interest in elections," Forlini told Action News. "We have to also elevate the interest in people that want to come forward and want to be a poll worker."

“We need both Democrats and Republicans to sign up. Every poll should have at least one of each. And our goal is to try and help cross-pollinate between the different municipalities to be able to get Democrats in the Republican areas and Republicans more in the Democrat areas," he said.

Both Winfrey and Forlini agree that with more everyday citizens involved, trust in the process will improve.

“I think most poll workers find how good the system really is," Forlini said. "All the checks and balances throughout the system. And if everybody does their job, laws are already in place to make elections work."

A notable change in Detroit during this cycle Winfrey said, is the level of interest from Republicans looking to get involved.

“We’ve had 800+ Republicans that decided they wanted to work with us this year. And so we reached out to every last one of them and about half of them have trained and have been assigned," she said.

For reference, leading up to the 2020 General Election, Detroit had less than 200 Republicans working as poll workers on Election Day.

Detroit taking center stage in recent reporting from Politico, which outlines a coordinated effort by the RNC's Election Integrity Program to place party-trained volunteers in poll worker posts and to connect them with party attorneys.

Historically, voters in the Motor City have leaned heavily Democratic.

An RNC staffer from Michigan was caught on tape saying, "it's going to be an army," referring to GOP-recruited attorneys prepared to fight potential challenges in court.

GOP Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel blasted the Politico piece on Twitter, saying "The RNC election integrity operation is solely focused on ensuring elections are conducted lawfully and with full transparency. We've successfully executed it in states that have held elections like OH, GA, WI, PA, TX, VA & NJ."

She goes on to say that "In these states, elections have run smoothly, turnout was up in VA, GA, & TX, and there was no “chaos” as baselessly alleged by Politico in its inaccurate “report.” In practice, poll watchers are trained to report issues quickly and accurately, preventing “chaos."

In the Politico piece, an RNC staffer appearing to speak to a room of trainees also talks about the benefits of party recruits working as poll workers as opposed to challengers. “Being a poll worker, you just have so many more rights and things you can do to stop something than [as] a poll challenger,” he said.

There is also a reference on the tape to get more boots on the ground in Detroit to that "fraud does not happen again." False claims of mass voter fraud led to chaos in Detroit during the 2020 General Election. It also sparked this now viral conspiracy about mystery ballots being wheeled into TCF Center.

Clerk Winfrey also received death threats stemming from the lie that the election was stolen.

We reached out to the RNC for a comment on the tapes and received the following statement from a spokesperson:

“There has undoubtedly been some fraud in Michigan’s elections. The RNC’s program is about ensuring the integrity of elections as a whole. That means ensuring the election is administered in accordance with Michigan law, that the voting process is transparent and accessible to bipartisan poll watchers, and that every lawful ballot counts and is properly documented.”

Small levels of fraud, along with human clerical errors have occurred in Michigan elections, and have been documented. But the lie of widespread voter fraud in 2020 has been continuously debunked including by Trump-appointed judges.

Most recently a group of former federal judges, Republican senators, and Republican-appointed officials also released a 72-page report refuting the lie that the election was rigged. The report includes a look at Michigan's 2020 election results.

By law, Winfrey and any local clerk is required to pick names submitted by the party to fill election worker positions; this is to ensure bipartisan representation and to avoid bias within precinct workers.

Winfrey's concern, is if rules designed for balance are used to try and hinder the process or to intimidate voters.

“We hope it’s not the case, but if they’re trying to impede the process we definitely are ready," Winfrey said.

She announced last week plans to beef up security at precinct locations and the central counting board on Tuesday.

RELATED | Detroit Clerk details enhanced security measures ahead of August 2 primary

“We’ve met with all stakeholders. We’ve come together, we have a plan in the event trouble happens," she said.

Her office has also met with the Michigan AG's office and state police.

Action News reached out to the Michigan Secretary of State's Office on this issue as well, and received the following statement:

“Elections work best when Republicans and Democrats serve as election workers, just as they always have in Michigan. What’s alarming about recent reporting is the suggestion that some potential election workers are being fed misinformation that could prompt them to interfere with our elections or attempt to prevent eligible citizens from voting. Such actions are illegal and will not be tolerated and we will continue to support Michigan’s election clerks to ensure they have the people and resources they need to carry out our elections in accordance with the law.”

Voter turnout for a midterm primary is usually low. In Detroit, Winfrey is anticipating between 12 and 17%.

Redistricting has reduced the number of voting precincts in the city from 503 to 450. All registered voters, Winfrey said, should’ve received new voter identification cards that include accurate and current precinct information.

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