John P. Child has a strong view about the 2020 presidential election: “I think it was stolen, fair and square.”
He’s not the type to stage a coup, he says. But he no longer trusts local officials to run elections.
So, like a growing number of Americans who support former President Donald Trump, he’s taken training classes put on by conservative groups on how to be a poll watcher in the 2022 midterm elections. This time, he will be able to see for himself.
It comes as part of a nationwide movement led by MAGA influencers who have circulated false information about election fraud, with former Trump adviser Steve Bannon the most prominent.
On a recent episode of his “War Room” podcast, Bannon said: “Biden is illegitimate, and we’re gonna prove it. … It’s never going to happen again.”
Bannon hosts many guests who are working to build an army of conservative poll workers, such as Cleta Mitchell, a lawyer who tried to help overturn the 2020 election. “All over the country, we’re deploying people to be poll watchers to watch everything that’s happening,” Mitchell said.
Some of these MAGA influencers tour the country. David Clements tells crowds that that voting machines are extremely vulnerable. He concludes his presentation with a stirring appeal that the audience members do more than consume content. “You have to get in the ring,” he said in Michigan. “You can’t fight this on social media.”
This is having a real effect. CNN met Child, a realtor, outside a training held by Delaware County Conservatives in suburban Philadelphia. The organizer had expected only a couple people, but about a dozen showed up, and she had to hunt for more chairs.
Child showed CNN the training documents, which go through many technical and procedural details of how votes are counted after polls close — and question whether each is an avenue for cheating. They cast a cloud of suspicion over the vote without any proof.
“My head was spinning at the end of it,” he said of the presentation, explaining that he went to the seminar a second time to understand the issue better.
“I would vote, you know, every time and … hit the buttons and go home,” he said. “And the seminar basically showed us what happens after your vote. And that’s that was an eye opener.”
“The one thing I remember vividly is the paper in the touch-writer,” he said of what he had learned about the special materials required that were not regular copy paper.
“So if you see that there’s Hammermill being brought out, you’re supposed to say, hey, stop, stop the proceedings.”
Child raised a few debunked claims of election fraud. When CNN showed him proof the claims were false, he accepted it – he was even friendly about it. But he couldn’t shake the feeling that something had gone wrong. He thought elections should go back to paper ballots and a single day of voting.
“People come to us at county council meetings and say, ‘We need to use paper ballots!’ And I’m like, ‘We do use paper ballots. Do you understand we use paper ballots?” Delaware County Council member Christine Reuther told CNN. “The votes are cast on a paper ballot, and then they are scanned, and the results of that vote are tabulated on the scanner. But you’re not really voting on the scanner, you’re voting on the paper ballot, and that paper ballot is maintained as a record of the voter’s vote.”
At a county council meeting, it was clear officials were frustrated by the several citizens who used the public comment period to make false claims about election fraud. That frustration makes sense: Delaware County has now fought 15 lawsuits against 2020 election deniers. It won all of them. But the county told CNN it had cost $250,000. Reuther said she was worried about how much more time and money this movement would drain with the midterms and the 2024 election.
Pennsylvania may have some of the most closely watched races nationally, with a US Senate seat and the governorship hanging in the balance. Delaware County was once a Republican stronghold, but has steadily become more Democratic over the last decade. In the last election, the entire county council went Democratic for the first time.
“Those things are fairy tales,” Carl Belis, who has been a poll worker in several elections, told CNN of public comments claiming the voting machines were vulnerable to fraud.
Belis wasn’t worried about working in this election in Delaware County. If someone tried to disrupt the voting, the police would be called. “Across the nation? Yeah, I think there’ll be some problems, definitely. Which is why I say to people, ‘Be prepared now. Don’t be stupid like on January 6.’”
Child says he just wants the rules followed. And if Democrats win, he will carry on with his life. “What, am I going to start a revolt? No,” he said. “Have to accept it. What else are you gonna do?”