DAVENPORT, Iowa – A few weeks before the November 8th election, Rachael Montgomery received an email from a person named James at the Center of Election Integrity, based in Chicago, IL. Montgomery is an assistant to the County Auditor who is tasked with conducting elections in Scott County, Iowa. In the email, James offered help in the form of volunteers at “as many precincts as you need.”
“It seemed a little unusual that folks from out of state were offering to volunteer,” said Montgomery, “but I didn’t think much of it. I know there are groups that organize specifically to help with elections, and some of them are quite large, so it seemed to make sense.” Having all the manpower she needed at her precincts, Montgomery politely declined and thanked James for the offer.
Then, in the week before the election, a colleague of James’s visited Montgomery’s office to offer help in person. “I think she introduced herself as Susan,” recalled Montgomery. “She said they had a group of volunteers in the state and were looking for any precincts where they could help out. She said her volunteers had experience with working at polls and operating different models of ballot counting machines, and that if we were short-handed anywhere to let her know.” Once again, Montgomery was thankful for the offer but politely declined. “This time I thought it was weird that they were actually here in person,” she continued, “but, she wasn’t rude or pushy and left right away. I didn’t even get her contact information. I was busy preparing for the election so it wasn’t long before I forgot all about it.”
Montgomery didn’t think about the unusual offers for assistance until weeks after the election had taken place when she was talking to her counterpart in Woodbury County about an unrelated matter. He told her that not only had he had a similar experience in Sioux City, but that he had heard the same story from the Auditor’s office in Waterloo in Black Hawk County. As there was nothing illegal or even threatening about the encounters, Montgomery and her counterparts didn’t believe it was worth reporting the incidents to anyone, but she thought it was unusual enough that she reached out to The Middle American through a mutual contact.
Although polling locations are operated by volunteers, it is unusual for someone out-of-state to offer their help. There are many election integrity and assistance groups across the nation, but they tend to operate within their own state or county.
We attempted to contact James of the Center for Election Integrity using the email address used to contact Montgomery and her counterparts before the election but received no response. The registrant of the domain name in the email address is hidden, and no web site is available at the corresponding Internet address. Having never learned the full names of either James or Susan, our efforts to contact anyone at the Center for Election Integrity ended there.
It is possible that this was an ad hoc and loosely organized group of volunteers assembled only long enough to help with elections in the region. Volunteer groups are not required to register in any way or maintain any sort of contact information. We are unaware of offers made by them or any other group to assist with elections in other locations.
Woodbury, Scott, and Black Hawk Counties are three of the six largest counties in Iowa by population. Hillary Clinton beat Donald Trump by 1.5% in Scott County and by about 7% in Black Hawk while losing to Trump by almost 20% in Woodbury County. Clinton won by at least 9% in the other three largest Iowa Counties.