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Trump supporters head to Charlotte to guard against ‘rigged’ election

Voters inside a packed Beatties Ford Road Regional Library on the first day of early voting in Mecklenburg County.
Voters inside a packed Beatties Ford Road Regional Library on the first day of early voting in Mecklenburg County. dhinshaw@charlotteobserver.com

A cadre of loosely-organized Donald Trump supporters concerned about a rigged election and voter fraud plan to be in Charlotte – one of a handful of major U.S. cities where grassroots volunteers say they’ll be conducting exit polling.

The effort is part of longtime Republican political consultant Roger Stone’s “Stop the Steal” movement. The “Stop the Steal” tax-exempt political group – whose website logo features an outline of Trump’s face – bills itself as being “devoted to maintaining the integrity of our electoral process.”

Trump has repeatedly said the 2016 election is “rigged” and he has claimed reporters and Democratic political operatives are in cahoots against him. “Stop the Steal” recruits volunteers to poll departing voters and, on its website, the group warns of “election theft through manipulation of the computerized voting machines.”

North Carolina voting locations use a mix of electronic machines and paper-only ballots. The electronic voting method, which is used in Mecklenburg County, also produces a paper trail, called a “real time audit log.” And, machines aren’t allowed to have Internet connections.

Stone’s group says it has an “emergency committee” in place to inspect software used in voting machines. Stone recently told The Guardian at least 1,300 volunteers have signed up to visit polling places across the country, including Charlotte, Detroit, Las Vegas and Cleveland.

If Trump supporters who are worried about election fraud show up at polling places in Charlotte, they’ll be expected to follow the same rules as everyone else, says Michael Dickerson, director of elections in Mecklenburg County.

All campaigning near polling places and exit polling must be done outside a 50-foot buffer at precincts, according to North Carolina state law.

“The voter does not have to stop and answer. There’s no harassment of voters – that will not be tolerated,” Dickerson said.

Dickerson said Thursday he had not heard of “Stop the Steal’s” plans in North Carolina. The group’s motivation doesn’t concern him any more than “the overall comments of a rigged election,” he said.

Mecklenburg County and election officials statewide, Dickerson said, are committed to running open and honest elections.

Early voters have mixed views

In-person early voting started Oct. 20 in North Carolina. More than 1.2 million ballots have been cast in-person or by mail.

“I don’t think we’d be here if we did believe it was rigged,” said Amy Muffo, a software development manager from Raleigh.

Muffo cast her vote at the Optimist Community Center in suburban Raleigh. There, some voters had to park cars blocks away then walk to the community center and wait in line for 45 minutes or more.

Guy Smith, who voted early at another Raleigh location, is a big Trump fan, and the early voting process bothered him, although he said he does not think it will affect the ultimate result.

Busloads of people from local churches arrived at his polling place. One of the leaders seemed awfully close to the polls, urging people to vote his way, Smith said.

Dennis Berwyn, a Raleigh research analyst and Republican poll greeter, had an uneasy feeling at a Wake Forest voting site. As a greeter, he had to maintain a set distance, but Berwyn said he saw too many people approach cars engaging in curbside voting.

Those who have difficulty physically reaching the polls are allowed to stay in their cars to vote “curbside.” Official poll workers bring them ballots.

It all made Michele Woodhouse, a Raleigh medical saleswoman, nervous.

“I have less confidence,” she said. Look at the time between early voting and Election Day, she said.

“You have more time. There’s more room for things to go wrong,” Woodhouse, a Republican, said.

David Lightman contributed to this article.

Anna Douglas: 202-383-6012, @ADouglasNews

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