The integrity of our elections is under assault from Democrats in Washington and left-wing forces across America. Using the pretext of COVID, a web of well-funded organizations, working with Democrat lawmakers and friendly judges, systematically changed state election laws in 2020.
Cleta Mitchell, who has spent a lifetime fighting for free and fair elections, is calling out the left’s tactics and encouraging Americans to take an active role in their local elections. Mitchell, a senior legal fellow at the Conservative Partnership Institute, leads the Election Integrity Network and hosts a podcast, “Who’s Counting?”
With high-stakes debates taking place in Washington and state capitals, Mitchell tells The Daily Signal that it’s a crucial moment to champion election integrity.
Read a lightly edited transcript of the interview below or listen to our conversation on “The Daily Signal Podcast.”
Bluey: You are a former member of the Oklahoma House of Representatives, as a Democrat, I should note, who later became a Republican and went on to champion many conservative causes. Now, of all the issues that you’ve worked on in your life, why does election integrity matter so much to you?
Mitchell: That’s a really important question. And I will tell you that the reason I care so much about this—look, I mean, my law practice for all these many years has been really focused on, we call it the area of political law, but it includes election law, campaign finance, lobbying regulations, financial disclosure, ethics rules, it’s the business and regulation of politics and policy.
And one of the things that has become clear to me over the years, since I was once a Democrat, and the thing that [has] been very difficult for me to explain to people over many years is that Democrats and leftists … focus on these process issues.
If you’ll notice when Nancy Pelosi became speaker in 2007, after the House was won by the Democrats in the 2006 election, what was her No. 1 legislative priority? It was lobbying legislation. And then, fast forward, they lose the House. They come back in 2018. What’s the No. 1 issue that the Democrats have on the calendar with the No. 1 HR 1, what is that? It’s a process issue. It’s about election law.
So the thing that I had tried many years to tell conservatives and Republicans is we cannot leave the field to the left in these important process issues. We have let them write the laws on elections, on campaign finance, on lobbying regulation, all of these things. And then we end up fighting about them, but we’re always playing defense.
These are not the issues that conservatives tend to want to fight about. We tend to want to fight about tax policy, education policy, school choice, all those kinds of things. But I think that the 2020 election finally woke up this sleeping giant of everyday citizens and conservative organizations and leaders to realize that you can’t leave election law and the rules of engagement on elections to the left.
Because the other thing we have to be aware of is they write all these laws, but they have no intention of abiding by them. I mean, there was this wholesale disregard of the rule of law in 2020.
So I’m very gratified that after all these years that so many people have awakened to the need for paying attention to things that Hans von Spakovsky and I have been talking about working on for decades.
Bluey: Thank you for the work that you are doing. You’ve also sacrificed a lot personally to champion election integrity, including your job at a nationally known law firm. That happened after the 2020 election when you were a volunteer attorney for the Trump legal team in Georgia. Some people might walk away after an episode like that, Cleta, instead you leaned in. Tell us why you started the Election Integrity Network and what your goals are.
Mitchell: I was really freed by the decision to leave my partnership at my law firm, where I’d been for 20 years, to be able to focus full time on the vast area of election integrity, to be able to help, to educate citizens, and build a network and try to equip people—normal everyday people—with the tools that they need to be part of the election process.
The laws of the state envision that there is a role for citizens in overseeing the elections and participating in the elections. That’s why the election officers always hire people to come in and work the elections, because at election time there’s a need for more people.
And many, many of the states have laws that require parity between the political parties for purposes of hiring election workers. Well, the problem is Republicans over the years have disregarded those laws and Republican slots have been filled with Democrats or with independents who really left us.
So it makes a big difference to have people engaged in the process, watching the process, observers, poll watchers. If you don’t have time to work the entire election, you could be a poll watcher. But in most states, many states, the political parties have to designate or authorize or appoint the poll watchers.
But that’s what I’m working on, is trying to train people in the various areas that are needed to not cede the local election office to the League of Women Voters and the local left-wing groups because trust me on this, they’re in the election offices. We’re the ones who haven’t been. It’s really a lot like parents and school boards. We kind of let the “professionals” have their way and now we’re paying the price for it.
So what I’m doing with the Election Integrity Network is to try to raise awareness, educate people, provide resources, training, meetings, gatherings. My podcast, you mentioned a weekly podcast where we talk about the elections, what happened in 2020, and then bigger, broader issues about what we can do to make sure that the elections are conducted in accordance with the law.
That’s my goal, is that legislatures write the election laws. That’s who should write them, not judges, not unelected bureaucrats, not elected bureaucrats, the legislature. And then we as citizens need to make darn sure that those laws are followed.
Bluey: I really want to stress this point to our listeners, Cleta. Election integrity is an issue where they can have a major impact simply by taking steps in their own community. Elections happen at all levels of government and at least every two years, and often more frequently in some states.
You have created a Citizens Guide for them. What is your advice for how they can get started? Picture somebody who might be intimidated by the process that you’ve just outlined here, what is a good first step if they want to start getting engaged in their own community?
Mitchell: The very first step is to download the “Citizens Guide to Building an Election Integrity Infrastructure,” which [is] free. They can go to the website www.whoscounting.us. And we’re going to be amping up and adding more resources, but download the Citizens Guide.
And you can get five or six people, 10 people in your area who are concerned about what happened in 2020 and want to know more and do more. And then this is a step-by-step. So it’s really, it’s not that difficult. It’s just a question of finding people who are concerned, get the Citizens Guide.
It tells you you need a couple of people who have knowledge about technology. I mean, I can barely work on my iPhone, so I’m not the person you want on your technology subcommittee, but there are people in the community and younger people in particular who do understand technology.
Find out what voting systems are used in your area. Be there for the logic and accuracy testing. Look at the Election Assistance Commission’s new voluntary guidelines for voting systems.
But again, it’s all there in the Citizens Guide. It’s just a question of getting some people together to learn about how to become part of the fabric of the election office in your community.
Bluey: You recently had Congresswoman Claudia Tenney on your podcast “Who’s Counting.” Rep. Tenney comes from the area where I grew up in Utica, New York. And she speaks about some of the challenges that she faced in her own election, which was the last race to be called, well after Congress was sworn in, in 2021.
You’ve also talked about some of the issues that were at play in 2020. I know a lot of states, because of the pandemic, changed election rules in ways that they shouldn’t have, perhaps not giving the legislature the ability to do so. A lot of that was happening in the courts. Can you just sum up for us so our listeners understand what was going on in 2020 and why it was problematic?
Mitchell: Well, interestingly enough, in may 2019, Hans von Spakovsky from [The Heritage Foundation] and I and J. Christian Adams, who’s the president and general counsel of the Public Interest Legal Foundation, put together a presentation. And I arranged for the three of us to go and meet with the lawyers for the Trump campaign. Now, remember this was may 2019.
And do you know what we were saying to them then? And this was well before COVID. … They had already filed more than 100 lawsuits. “They” being the left, a vast network of leftist voting groups, Marc Elias, who is the attack dog litigator funded by George Soros.
They had already started filing these lawsuits all over America to try to upend the election laws because they had failed to get HR 1 passed in that Congress after Republicans lost the House and Nancy Pelosi took over again.
So when people say that it was that COVID was the cause of the changes in the election laws and procedures, I just have to tell you, they knew to use that axiom that Rahm Emanuel once said, “Never let a good crisis go to waste.”
The moment COVID hit, they pivoted. And they began to use COVID as the pretext to vastly expand mail voting, voting by mail, challenging prohibitions on no-excuse absentee voting, challenging all kinds of election integrity measures in the courts.
And in some cases, as in Pennsylvania, for instance, the Legislature had adopted a new, first time ever, no-excuse absentee ballot voting system, but it still required that the person who wanted to vote by absentee ballot still had to have a signature on the envelope and all those signatures had to be matched to verify identity.
Well, the Democrat secretary of state in September 2020 sent a letter to all the election officers in each county, telling them, just disregard that provision of the statute, just don’t pay any attention to that. And when the Republicans sued, of course, you were in Pennsylvania, where there’s a Pennsylvania Supreme Court [that] has basically become an extension of the Pennsylvania Democratic Party Central Committee. And they upheld the decision of this secretary of state to just disregard the law.
And I can cite chapter and verse where, all over the country, there were lawsuits, either outgoing by the Democrats to challenge procedures or rulings by administrators and unelected bureaucrats who said, “Well, we’re just not going to pay any attention to that statute adopted by the legislature.”
And then you had courts who either failed to … uphold the law or who basically just didn’t even want to get involved and dismissed cases because they said, “Oh, you don’t have standing.” Well, who has standing? Citizens should have standing to sue to uphold the laws.
But … it was wide, it was widescale in 2020 where the election laws were utterly upended and disregarded.
And then you had the flood of money, the private money from Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan, through their foundation where they used charitable dollars. [They] basically turned local election offices into Democrat turnout machines and dramatically increased the turnout percentages in areas that were Democrat anyway, but drove up the Democrat vote totals to offset a statewide vote total.
And that’s what happened in Pennsylvania, what happened in Wisconsin, what happened in Georgia, in Arizona, and a number of states—certainly enough to have changed the outcome of the election.
Bluey: Cleta, who is the mastermind behind this effort on the left, both from the standpoint of bankrolling it and then operationalizing it, as you just outlined?
Mitchell: The sad truth about this, Rob, is that the left has an incredible web of organizations. It isn’t just one group. On the right, if we have one group fighting for, say, parents and school boards, that’s really great. But the left, on the other hand, has—not including the unions—they have all kinds of groups.
There have been the ACLU, the League of Women Voters. I mean, there’s a list of at least 25 very well-funded organizations on the left—the Brennan Center [for Justice], Stacey Abrams’ group. I mean, there are at least 25, 30. There may be 50 of them.
Demos. Now, Demos is one that we should talk about because it’s very actively involved. They have about a $12 million annual budget. They focus on only two issues. One is what they call expanding our democracy and the other is economic social justice.
And they just have so many different groups. But I will tell you another thing that is interesting, is that they have billionaires who give them tons of money for these things.
Pierre Omidyar, who was one of the founders of eBay, and he’s a multibillionaire. And I would bet that since 2011, 2012, he’s probably given, I mean, he’s given tens of millions of dollars to create these entities that then become part of the election office—Ballot Scout; Center for Civic Design, that designs ballots; Ballot Scout tracks absentee ballots; TurboVote, an organization that’s founded by leftists that basically wants to be in communication with every voter in America to remind them to vote and to tell them where to vote. …
The Center for Tech and Civic Life was a sleepy little million-dollar-a-year organization up until 2020. And it supposedly would help train election officials on the use of technology and had gotten an endorsement from … the federal agency the Election Assistance Commission.
And enter Mark Zuckerberg and his money, $419 million total, about $365 [million] of it went to the Center for Tech and Civic Life. It then went out to these different communities. And then they in turn, in these election offices, they turned around and entered into contracts and hired groups like the Brennan Center and other left-wing groups to basically have access in real time to the election board information that other people would have to pay for and were able to use that, as I said, to turn out a massive Democratic voter turnout.
And the person who operated, who directed all of that on behalf of Mark Zuckerberg is none other than David Plouffe, who was one of the Obama campaign managers.
Now Michelle Obama has founded a “voting rights group.” And so they are like amoeba, they just pop up and they all have tons of money. And the only way we’re ever going to be able to overcome their money is with our people. Grassroots people can overcome the funding every time. And that’s why I want people to be in the election offices and building these local task forces.
Bluey: One of the other things we’ve started to see from the grassroots after the 2020 election is a lot of activity in certain states where they were frustrated by what happened in 2020 and decided that they were going to try to put in place some safeguards for future elections.
As you look at the 50 states, who do you think is doing it well? Where do you want to see more activity take place in 2022, as we lead up to the midterm elections, and maybe even beyond? I know some states don’t even have their legislative sessions this year.
Mitchell: I have to give applause to Virginia because … some of the citizens of Virginia came together in the spring of last year and said, “We’ve got off-year elections. We elect our governor, our lieutenant governor, and our attorney general. All three of our statewide elected officials are up this year and our entire House of Representatives”—or what they call the General Assembly in Virginia.
So they came together and they more or less started doing this building of the infrastructure. And they formed a Virginia Fair Elections Coalition. They still, they work doing Zoom meetings twice a week. Now they’re down, they do it once a week. But they created these people. Volunteers came together and they created in Fairfax County the election task force. They created a group from Loudoun County, created an election integrity task force in Richmond, they created an election integrity task force.
I’m telling you, I could give many, many examples of the work that they did in being at the election offices day in and day out, asking questions, learning the systems, being there, and then recruiting and deploying people to be poll workers and poll watchers.
And as I mentioned about how there’s supposed to be parity, in Fairfax County, there’s never been parity between the parties in terms of those election judges.
And … the chair of the election integrity task force in Fairfax County was just doggedly determined that they were going to make sure that that statute was followed. And she would go in and say, “You don’t have our people. These three people, we’ve researched them and they may be unaffiliated, but they’re actually Democrats. They give money to Democrats. And we’ve given you these names.”
And by the time they got around to voting, for the first time, maybe ever, there was almost parity between Democrats and Republicans working the polls. Now, that’s a huge change, and we need to be doing that around the country.
In Detroit in 2020, there were over 5,000 slots in the greater Detroit Metropolitan Area for poll workers, judges, election officials. They are supposed to be 50/50 Democrat, Republicans. And with over 5,000 slots, there were 174 Republicans. Now, that’s insane.
There’s no real counterbalance if one party has control. And the point is, the parties are supposed to be watching each other. That’s the best transparency. I mean, that’s the best way to make sure that people do the right thing.
So there’s a real citizens effort within Michigan to recruit 5,000 election workers and get them trained so that they can be assigned to fill those slots in Detroit and other places.
So it’s a lot of work to do, but I think a lot of people are coming around and realizing, if we don’t do this, we will lose our election system—not losing the election to the candidates of our choice, but we’ll lose our system. … That will kill our republic.
Bluey: That really is what’s at stake. And thank you for sharing those encouraging stories, Cleta. It’s definitely good to hear. And I appreciate the work that you are doing to help educate people about the options that are available to them and why it’s so important that they take an active role.
Now, let me ask you this, because at a recent press conference, President [Joe] Biden suggested that the 2022 midterms might be “illegitimate” because Democrats couldn’t pass their election bills through Congress. The White House later tried to clarify what he meant, but it sure seemed to me—and probably other listeners—like it was an attempt to make an excuse for his potential political defeat in November.
What did you make of that? And can you bring us up to speed on what is going on in Congress and why Democrats do seem so adamant about passing something at the national level?
Mitchell: Well, they don’t like the idea that Republicans and legislatures in red states and other places have said, “We saw what happened in 2020, and we’re not going to just leave this playing field to the left any longer.”
So [state] legislatures have looked at the problems in their election laws—as in Georgia. Georgia did a good job. I think it could have been a little tougher in certain places, but they certainly did a good job in many ways of strengthening the election code in Georgia to avoid the problems of 2020.
And of course, what the Democrats [and] the vast left-wing conspiracy want is they want Congress to come in and pass federal laws that eliminate all the election integrity provisions that we support and the vast majority of the American people support—voter identification, verifying identity if you’re voting by mail; cutting back on the extended season of voting because it’s impossible, it’s really hard to staff and oversee and have observers if you have 45 days of voting, as was the case, as has been the case in Virginia.
But they want to make voter roles not public records so that they can put those behind walls so that the citizens can’t even know whether the voting roles are being maintained, as required by federal law.
But all the things that we know are important for protecting the integrity of the election the Democrats and their leftist allies want to federalize and say, “No, you can’t do that.” They want to prohibit enforcement of laws against noncitizen voting. I mean, the list is endless and utterly crazy.
They want to turn the elections, basically, over. They want to federalize them and turn them over, turn all of our elections over to the very left-wing lawyers in the Voting Section of the Department of Justice.
And what I’m worried about is something that I’ve been worried about for a year and which we’re getting ready to release more information about. Demos, one of these leftist groups, proposed a program to the Biden administration in December 2020, whereby they could turn every federal agency into a Democrat voter turnout machine. Using our federal dollars to do in ’22 what the Zuckerberg money did in 2020. And it’s very frightening.
Biden issued an executive order in March 2021 directing every federal agency to develop and submit a plan by last September about how that agency was going to use its program to register and mobilize voters in 2022. And those plans were all supposed to be submitted to the White House last September.
So we have submitted [Freedom of Information Act] requests to all the agencies. And so far we’ve gotten virtually nothing back, they’re stonewalling. The program is being run by Susan Rice in the White House and she has someone from Demos who is working for her in her office to implement the plans from the federal agencies.
So this is a real mayday that we’re just beginning to put together the information about to alert people and members of Congress and governors and legislators and attorneys general about this proposal, which it’s not to treat every voter the same, that’s the problem.
They want to use our money, our tax dollars to favor certain groups of voters who they think will contribute to Democratic victories. And to me, there are huge, constitutional, legal problems with that. But they got a lot of money. They’re using our tax dollars to try to accomplish, again, what they did in 2020 with the private money from Mark Zuckerberg and the zeros and commas are only exponentially larger.
Bluey: It truly is scary, the resources that they have at their disposal. Thank you for the work you’re doing to hold them accountable and try to get to the bottom of this and expose more and more of what is going on in the White House.
Now, Cleta, let me ask you this. We always like to feature fellow podcasters on this show and your podcast “Who’s Counting” is one of the best, particularly on this topic of election integrity. You’ve regularly had guests who discuss threats to our voting system. How do you want to use the podcast as a means of educating your listeners? And also, for “The Daily Signal Podcast” listeners, how can they go about finding it?
Mitchell: I thank you so much for asking. It is just, go to the website or just go to any of the different podcast platforms and just look for “Who’s Counting With Cleta Mitchell,” and you can download and subscribe.
I’ve had Hans von Spakovsky on the podcast twice. And he talked about the analysis of the election codes of the states that Heritage just completed last month.
I also interviewed several people, three people in the week leading up to the inauguration of Glenn Youngkin in January as the new governor of Virginia.
I recorded an episode with three citizens who had been involved in 2021 in forming local election integrity task forces and who described what they had done and how they did it and what their plans are going forward, because now what’s happened is that their local task forces have grown. It’s not as though people have said, “OK, we’re finished.” They’ve just grown. And so … it’s a real “how to” opportunity to hear from fellow citizens what they did.
And my goal is to identify issues, get experts to talk about those issues. And honestly, I consider experts to include everyday citizens who are doing important work to restore the integrity of our election.
Bluey: Well, that certainly is true, Cleta. Thank you for the work you’re doing on this issue and the leadership you’ve shown over the years, we’re truly grateful for it.
Again, listeners, check out the podcast, it’s “Who’s Counting,” and we’ll make sure to leave a link in show notes and the transcript so you can easily access it.
Cleta, thanks for being a guest on “The Daily Signal Podcast” today. We appreciate it.
Mitchell: Thank you so much, Rob. Daily Signal is what I read every day. I don’t need to read much of anything else, I know just what’s going on by reading The Daily Signal.
Bluey: Thank you so much for that. We appreciate it.