“If they’re being obstructionary and slowing down the process, that’s going to be incredibly challenging,” she said.
Ms. Mitchell said election officials “should have no problem with citizens asking questions and helping them do their jobs better.” She noted the activists are instructed to be courteous and respectful.
Indeed, at the Harrisburg training, Jenny Beth Martin, the leader of Tea Party Patriots, a conservative advocacy group, suggested activists use a three-word response whenever they become frustrated with officials: “Bless your heart,” she said.
A Test Run in Virginia
Ms. Mitchell has repeatedly held up Virginia, and particularly Fairfax County, as the national model. Ahead of last year’s governor’s race between Glenn Youngkin, a Republican businessman, and Terry McAuliffe, a Democratic former governor, she helped a Virginia nonprofit organize dozens of groups into a coalition. The network ultimately trained 4,500 poll watchers and election workers and organized 18 local task forces, a number that has since doubled, organizers say.
In Fairfax, a Democratic bastion outside Washington, about three dozen activists associated with the coalition and the local Republican Party rotated through election offices, combing through voter registration applications, undeliverable mail and other materials. Christine Brim, the task force’s leader, appeared in person or emailed staff nearly every day, according to Scott Konopasek, the registrar at the time. The operation ate up county workers’ time with dozens of information requests, as well as informal interrogations, Mr. Konopasek said.
“Everything they saw that they didn’t understand was fraud in their minds and that’s how they would frame the questions,” he said. “It was always accusatory.”
Steve Knotts, the Fairfax County G.O.P. chairman, said the activists were merely trying to get answers, particularly because the state had initiated new voting procedures. But election officials would often dodge their questions or brush them off, he said.