It’s already been a record-breaking year for Republican election lawsuits that target every aspect of the voting process, and more just keep coming. Since September, Republican Party organizations in multiple states have filed four lawsuits over poll workers, specifically to question the partisan composition of poll workers. In a time of unprecedented threats against election workers and a national poll worker shortage, Republicans are accusing election offices of wrongdoing and placing a greater burden on them during an already extremely busy time. More than that, these lawsuits could also fuel Republican claims that our election system is rigged against them and provide a pretext to subvert election results.
Many state laws require a specific partisan composition of poll workers.
America’s election system relies on hundreds of thousands of part-time, temporary employees to run polling places and help count ballots. Every state sets different rules and requirements, and the criteria can vary between counties within states as well. Even the name differs — poll workers can be officially called election clerks, election judges, election inspectors or election commissioners.
To preserve the fairness of elections, 48 states mandate a specific political makeup of poll workers. For example, Georgia requires election officials to attempt to appoint an equal number of poll workers from each party to the best of their ability. In Minnesota, Ohio and Tennessee, poll workers from one political party cannot make up a majority. These laws are intended to ensure both parties accept election outcomes. If Democrats and Republicans are represented, the logic goes, both parties will believe the election was run fairly and won’t have any reason to question if the results were impacted by how the election was administered.
The Republican lawsuits over poll workers are based on these laws, seeking to force the appointment of more poll workers who identify as Republicans.
Here are the battlegrounds where Republicans have filed lawsuits over poll workers.
In Arizona, the Republican National Committee (RNC) has filed a lawsuit challenging the composition of poll workers in Maricopa County, the state’s most populous county and key to any Democratic victory. In Republican National Committee v. Richer, also filed by the Arizona Republican Party, the groups argue that the county’s poll worker requirements deter Republicans from volunteering and led to a shortage of Republican poll workers for the 2022 primary election. They ask the court to force Maricopa County to change its rules and procedures, which they claim will lead to more Republican poll workers. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and Arizona Democratic Party intervened in the lawsuit, arguing that the Republicans’ request “threatens to hamstring the County’s ability to serve and assist its 1.5 million registered voters in casting their ballots.” They also point out that the Republican groups fail to explain why Maricopa County’s regulations burden Republicans, since they apply to poll workers from every political party.
The Michigan Republican Party and RNC filed a lawsuit against Flint, Michigan’s election officials alleging the city has an insufficient number of Republican poll workers. In their response to the complaint, however, Flint officials noted that officials only need to hire equal numbers of poll workers “as nearly as possible” and simply not enough Republicans signed up.
On Nov. 2, a judge dismissed the case during a hearing, finding that the Republicans were not qualified to sue over an alleged violation of this law.
In Nevada, the RNC filed a lawsuit against Clark County — home to Las Vegas and the state’s most Democratic county — seeking information about poll workers, including their names and party affiliations. On Oct. 5, the parties reached an agreement under which Clark County would give the RNC a roster of all poll workers scheduled to work the election that includes partisan affiliations but not names.
However, on Oct. 27 the RNC moved to unpause the case and asked the court to require Clark County to hire more Republicans to verify signatures on ballots — a notably broader request than the one in their original lawsuit seeking public records. On Nov. 3, the court denied this request.
Following this denial, the RNC filed another lawsuit against Clark County on Nov. 4, asking the state Supreme Court to order the county to hire more poll workers.
The Republican Party of Virginia and Republican Party of Prince William County filed a lawsuit asking a court to order the county, home to a competitive House race, to appoint more Republican poll workers. Under Virginia law, the chief officer and assistant chief officer of every precinct should be from different political parties “whenever practicable.” The Republicans allege the county has failed to follow this law in several precincts.
On Nov. 2, the court agreed with the Republicans and ordered the county to appoint more Republican poll workers.
These lawsuits are part of a strategy to sow seeds of doubt in the election.
Even though Republicans have been met with only partial success in these lawsuits, that doesn’t mean they will have failed. Instead, these lawsuits could serve as the groundwork to raise questions about the legitimacy of the election results.
In the event of a close election that Democrats win, Republicans could point to these preexisting lawsuits as reasons to question the results. If there wasn’t an equal number of Republican poll workers, they could insinuate that the election was administered in a way that favored Democrats and changed the outcome. The actual merits of the lawsuits don’t matter; the mere fact that they exist could serve as a pretext to fuel Republican attempts at election subversion.
In 2020, former President Donald Trump and his allies filed dozens of lawsuits contesting the election outcome. Even though he lost almost all of these lawsuits, they’re still used as a reason to cast doubt on the legitimate results of the 2020 election. This year, Republicans seemed to have taken that to heart, filing lawsuits like the ones over poll workers that may not materially change anything about the election, but could nevertheless be used as tools in a campaign to undermine the vote.