Observers warn of "chaotic election season" as campaigners, including ex-Trump aide Steve Bannon, promote "election denialism" and misinformation to entice thousands of Americans to sign up as observers and challengers for midterms.

With election denial rampant, US risks becoming what historian Ruth Ben-Ghiat called an
With election denial rampant, US risks becoming what historian Ruth Ben-Ghiat called an "electoral autocracy." (Reuters Archive)

Influential right-wing campaigners who endorse Donald Trump's false claims of election fraud are mobilising a vigilante-style "army" of poll watchers for the US midterms, a move analysts say threatens chaos, intimidation and violence.

The campaigners, including some who tried to overturn Trump's defeat in the 2020 election such as his former aide Steve Bannon, are weaponising misinformation and so-called "election denialism" to encourage thousands of people to sign up as poll observers and challengers.

The mobilisation has made the midterms, just two weeks away, the biggest test of the US democratic system since Trump's debunked assertion that the last election was stolen from him.

On his popular podcast "War Room" this month, Bannon rallied for his audience to sign up as election workers, saying it was a political "call to arms."

"It (the midterms) can't be like 2020," he told listeners.

"Steve Bannon's early call for election deniers to sign up as poll workers and poll observers, along with disinformation questioning the integrity of the voting system... sows a real possibility for a chaotic election season," Jennifer McCoy, professor of political science at Georgia State University, told the AFP news agency.

"We may potentially see tremendous confusion as some voters are prevented from voting, and many challenges during the vote count as these new poll workers and partisan observers challenge results they may not like."

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'Army of citizens'

Bannon appeared on his podcast with Cleta Mitchell, a lawyer who also aided Trump's effort to overturn the 2020 election and is now involved in assembling what she calls an "army of citizens" to monitor elections.

She has said that her organisation, the "Election Integrity Network," has trained more than 20,000 people as poll watchers throughout the country, many of them in battleground states.

"The left has been counting and controlling the election process with no oversight from us for too long," Mitchell wrote in a post earlier this year.

"Those days are over."

A "guide" published on her organisation's website and distributed in nationwide training sessions called on citizens to be "ever present" in local polling offices, question election authorities and scrutinise voter eligibility.

It also urged them to identify whether officials in attorney general offices were "friend or foe."

"In endorsing combative yet vague instructions and promoting the unjustified spectre of widespread fraud, the unprecedented effort to organise an 'army’ of citizens could lead to voter interference and intimidation, mass voter challenges, election security breaches, and other forms of lawbreaking in November," Mekela Panditharatne, from the Brennan Center for Justice, wrote in an analysis.

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'Electoral autocracy'

Last week, Arizona election authorities said they were "deeply concerned" over voter safety after two armed individuals in tactical gear were found watching over a drop box for mail-in ballots.

The news came after at least two voters in Arizona filed official complaints of intimidation, a local TV station reported.

"It is one thing to observe the polling in a neutral fashion, and another to do so in a way that intimidates voters who may have opposing party affiliations," Larry Diamond, a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, told AFP.

With election denial rampant, the United States risks becoming what historian Ruth Ben-Ghiat called an "electoral autocracy."

"They (Trump and his supporters) aim to delegitimise elections in the absolute," Ben-Ghiat, a professor at New York University, told AFP.

"The goal is to associate voting with corruption to the point where the idea of relying on elections as a way to choose leaders is compromised in the public mind."

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Source: AFP