A Republican candidate for Virginia governor pledged this week to ramp up poll-watching and compile “NFL-style scouting reports” on local election officials, diving headlong into the sort of conspiracy theories and efforts to undermine faith in elections that animated former President Donald Trump’s losing campaign last year.
Pete Snyder, a businessman who launched his campaign for governor in January, suggested during a local GOP event that he wanted to place poll-watchers at every polling site in the state and have details on the political affiliations of Virginia election registrars. He argued it was necessary to root out potential election fraud.
The calls for Republican voters and campaigns to monitor polling sites are similar to those Trump made last year, when he began peddling baseless claims of rampant voter fraud to undermine confidence in the electoral system months before the 2020 election. Democrats and voting rights groups warned that the Trump campaign’s attempts to mobilize an “army of poll watchers” searching for fraud where none exists only risked intimidating voters and election workers at polling sites.
“We need to make sure that we have folks inside, outside, watching,” Snyder said during a Facebook Live event hosted by the Fairfax County Republican Committee on Sunday evening. “We’re going to make sure ... that every single precinct has a lawyer, and people know who to call immediately when they spot something foul going on, and that we are reporting what’s happening, and making sure that I’m going to be getting NFL-style scouting reports on every single registrar in Virginia. Because as a candidate, I want to know if they are Republican or Democrat.”
That sort of operation, Snyder suggested, was the only way ensure the election was conducted fairly.
The Snyder campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment about whether he believed widespread fraud occurred in the 2020 election, or whether he believed it would during Virginia’s 2021 races. There is no evidence that rampant fraud occurred last year, or in any recent American election.
American Bridge, a liberal super PAC and opposition research firm, recorded video of Snyder’s comments:
Snyder also announced on the call that Ken Cuccinelli, a former Virginia attorney general and gubernatorial candidate who served in the Trump administration, would oversee his campaign’s “entire ballot integrity and electoral security operation.”
“I couldn’t have hired or asked anyone in America who is better qualified than Ken,” Snyder said.
In November 2012, Cuccinelli agreed with a conservative radio host who suggested that former President Barack Obama won that year’s election because of widespread voter fraud.
Snyder said he believed willingness to “play by the rules” and expect that all voters would as well had fostered apathy among conservatives when it came to monitoring poll sites. He said he would use a team of lawyers and campaign officials to gather basic election information about which precincts use paper ballots and which use machines. But his scouting reports would go farther, as he wanted to discover how election officials “lean,” describe “their M.O.” and figure out “what are their proclivities.”
Poll-watching is a typical practice in the states where it is allowed, but Trump’s attempts to mobilize his supporters to monitor election sites were a naked effort to foster the belief that widespread fraud would occur during a race that relied more heavily than usual on absentee and early voting because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Trump too handed his election security operation to a Republican official with a history of making unsubstantiated claims of voter fraud. The campaign’s poll-monitoring practices drew particular scrutiny in Pennsylvania, where campaign officials attempted to record voters and election officials at election offices in Philadelphia. Trump campaign officials were told to leave satellite election offices where voters could drop off absentee ballots to avoid violating laws meant to prohibit political intimidation of voters, poll workers and election officials.
In response, Trump claimed election officials had turned the campaign workers away because “bad things happen” during elections in Philadelphia.
As governor, Snyder said he would “make sure Virginia is No.1 in the nation in ballot security and electoral security laws,” a talking point Republicans nationwide have used to justify a rash of legislative proposals that would place new restrictions on voting. In some states, they have pushed to allow increased poll watching and monitoring.
Snyder is one of six Republicans seeking the party’s gubernatorial nomination, which it will award at a statewide convention in May. Some Virginia Republicans have desperately tried to steer the party away from its devotion to conspiracy theories and increasingly radical candidates, in an effort to arrest a decline that has seen the Virginia GOP lose two consecutive gubernatorial contests and control of the state Legislature.
But Virginia state Del. Kirk Cox is the only one of the six candidates who has clearly stated that President Joe Biden won the 2020 election legitimately, according to the Washington Post, and Snyder’s willingness to peddle the same election-related conspiracies Trump favored suggests that the fever isn’t close to breaking in a state that many analysts expect Democrats to win again this November.