Poll Challengers Prepare for Election Day

October 23, 2020

Kathryn DePauw
Editor in Chief

   With the Nov. 3 presidential election fast approaching, some voters fear that people with guns and intimidating demeanors plan to flood the polls. Images of militarized men lining up to intimidate voters inundate our newsfeeds. But this might not be the most disruptive partisan action that could impact the election’s outcome.
   On Oct. 16, Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson and Attorney General Dana Nessel tried to assuage the concerns over intimidating poll watchers by limiting the open carry ability of people at the polls. Many polling locations, such as schools and churches, already have strict prohibitions against firearms. Part of this predicted surge in poll watchers reflects President Trump’s call to conservatives during the first debate. However, there has been little discussion of who will be behind the scenes watching and engaging in the process — that is, the poll challengers.
   Here in Northern Michigan, some conservatives have decided to work at polling stations in this election, albeit not in their own counties. One of the most prominent voices is that of “Trucker” Randy Bishop, an outspoken open-carry advocate,  convicted felon, and Trump supporter in Antrim County. Bishop is well-known for his conservative radio program, “Your Defending Fathers,” as well as his connections with far-right fringe groups, though he claims to have no official affiliation with them.  
   “I’ve spoken to and I’ve educated various militia groups, Proud Boys, other types of groups — pro-second amendment groups. I’m a very strong supporter of the second amendment,” Bishop told the White Pine Press on Oct. 15. Bishop plans to work at a polling station, traveling to Detroit on election day to monitor voters and poll workers.
   On Oct. 9, Bishop was removed from Facebook for a controversial post. His personal page, and numerous others that he was owner/administrator of, were taken down a half hour after his radio program aired that day. Bishop believes that his show that day triggered Facebook’s actions. The program described the plot to kidnap Governor Whitmer as a staged Democratic ploy designed to make the Democrats look sympathetic and elevate Whitmer’s position in the party. “It’s being done by Governor Gretchen Whitmer and working with, in concert with, the Deep-State, ‘never Trump’ FBI that don’t want Donald Trump to win reelection on Nov. 3,” Bishop claimed.
   Facebook told Michigan Radio that it banned Bishop’s pages for being a “militarized social movement,” a claim he calls a lie. Bishop insists that his personal page and the groups he’s part of, including the “Michigan 2A for Sanctuary Counties” page (with more than 98,000 verified Michigan citizens), are groups based on constitutional rights.
   Bishop plans to file federal lawsuits against Facebook and Mark Zuckerberg for deleting pages based on what he alleges are the violation of his rights to freedom of speech, press, and religion. He believes he has been discriminated against due to what he calls his Christian beliefs and support of the second amendment.

   Bishop is currently working with the Michigan Republican Party and the Election Integrity Fund to coordinate poll challengers across the state and focus on democratic strongholds, like Detroit. Although Bishop describes the Election Integrity Fund as non-partisan, the organization is considered conservative and has been involved in litigation against some of the Democratic administration’s election decisions. The group sued Lansing and Flint over the use of private grant funds, which focused on progressive cities, to help pay for election staffing, training, and equipment costs. It also filed a legal challenge against Benson for allowing people to apply electronically for absentee ballots.

​   These groups have been hosting training events to organize and certify poll challengers for Nov. 3. Bishop recently became certified in Traverse City at a local church, with other poll challenger trainings planned for Oct. 28 and 29 in TC and Gaylord.
   “Our plan is to get over 2,000 people trained to be poll challengers,” stated Bishop, adding, “What a poll challenger is is somebody who can actually go into the counting areas of where ballots will be counted, especially in Wayne County.”

“We want to monitor and watch what they are doing to make sure that the ballots are handled properly, and that every ballot is counted only once and then properly secured and stored in the security canvas bags,” poll challenger Randy Bishop told the White Pine Press.

​   The poll challengers have more leeway and responsibility than poll watchers. They can challenge a person’s eligibility to vote, challenge the actions of election inspectors, can look at the pollbook, and serve on an absent voter ballot counting board to monitor the ballot counting process. They are not able to campaign or touch election materials, nor approach or speak to voters. There are also limitations on how and when they can challenge a voter’s eligibility.

​   The focus on Wayne County, which includes Detroit, is likely intentional. Not only does the county have the largest population of any county in Michigan and is a reliable Democratic stronghold, it also has the highest percentage of Black voters in the state. With Trump only winning 29% of the vote in Wayne County in 2016, this is the best place to impact a Biden stronghold.
   Wayne County looks particularly vulnerable. During the Aug. 4 primary, 72% of precincts had ballot balance errors. Michigan has one of the strictest recount requirements in the nation, and any discrepancy between ballot tallies disqualifies a precinct from a recount. In the 2016 presidential election, almost 60% of Detroit’s precincts did not qualify for the recount. These discrepancies are typically attributed to human error (not being able to start counting ballots before election day led to workers pulling 20-hour shifts) and are not due to voter fraud. Logistical issues related to volunteer enlisting, retention, training, and communication seem to be the reason for August’s failures. Officials are hoping to address these issues in time for the general election. If the count is close and a recount is needed, Wayne County could play a critical role in determining who wins Michigan’s crucial 16 electoral votes.
   With so much on the line on Nov. 3, the integrity of the election process in Wayne County may hinge on the community finding logistical support. It stands in contrast to the money, manpower, and state-wide organization spent on the politically affiliated poll challengers. And citizens have no way of knowing who these poll challengers are without contacting the groups they are associated with.
   On election day, Bishop plans to host his radio show until noon and then drive from his home in Antrim County to the TCF Convention Center in Detroit. He intends to stay until all the votes are counted, all night if he has to.
   “We want to monitor and watch what they are doing to make sure that the ballots are handled properly, and that every ballot is counted only once and then properly secured and stored in the security canvas bags,” explained Bishop. The threat of ballots being counted more than once was a concern raised multiple times by Bishop, despite no evidence of widespread issues, even from the Trump administration’s own recent investigation into voter fraud.
   Bishop seems confident in the election process and suggests we all “get a big bowl of popcorn” and wait it out on election night. While many may worry over President Trump’s inconsistent stance on accepting election results, Bishop has no concerns about the aftermath of this contentious election.
   “I think it will be very loud and clear on election night,” Bishop said. “The victory by Donald Trump will be large enough that the outcome won’t matter because I don’t think there will be any peaceful transition. I believe he will remain in office another four years.”

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