In the run-up to the November 3rd election, President Donald Trump has repeatedly cast doubt on the election’s integrity without evidence, calling it 'rigged', and he's urged his supporters to watch for fraud.
His campaign website calls on supporters to join an ‘Army for Trump,’ monitoring polling sites on election day.
Spurred by Trump’s message, about 80 volunteers many donning Trump hats came out on a recent cold and rainy Monday night in Keego Harbor, Michigan, just outside Detroit, for a training session put on by the Michigan Conservative Coalition.
63-year-old Rosanne Ponkowski was one of the first to arrive.
“With all the absentee ballots that are going on, I think it's really important that we not only vote, but we guard the vote and that we make sure that the ballots are only being counted once and that they're done properly."
Many, including Gerry Clicksby, echo the president’s unsubstantiated claims about voter fraud.
"We have to watch for fraud. It exists, it exists. This is not a perfect world. This is not going to be a perfect election. And I think that the odds this election for fraud is far greater than anything we've seen thus far."
Republicans are mobilizing thousands of volunteers to watch early voting sites and ballot drop boxes in not only Michigan but across other key battleground states. But voting-rights activists and Democratic groups are worried that partisan-poll watchers particularly if they show up in force, could intimidate voters.
Authorities in Michigan and Wisconsin this week warned some poll watchers could show up armed, raising the potential for violence.
Michigan banned the open carry of weapons within 100 feet of voting centers.
Troy Rienstra is a voting rights advocate who works with formerly incarcerated people and says he fears intimidation will become an issue.
“We understand that there are members of a certain political persuasions who do want to silence the vote of marginalized people, people of color, people who are living in poverty and to discourage them because as if, they do not have equal right, that another person has to cast their ballot and for some people, that may be a concern to them. So, intimidation does become a factor."
These volunteers poll watchers told Reuters they weren’t trying to intimidate anyone, but to simply ensure a fair election and scrutinize ballots for any irregularities.