What you need to know about election ‘canvassers’

Typically traveling in pairs or groups, canvassers are knocking on Nebraskans' doors seeking ballot information from last year's election. Here's what you need to know.

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There’s canvassing, and then there’s this: In October, people began showing up on Nebraskans’ front doorsteps, asking about their voter registration status, what method they used to vote in the 2020 general election, and, in some instances, who they voted for. A number of reports, both in the media and to our Election Protection Line, have placed the door-to-door efforts in Omaha, Lincoln, and Kearney.

For every official call or report of this nature, it’s a safe bet there are several others going unreported. Typically traveling in pairs or groups, canvassers knock on doors with mail-in ballot information from the 2020 election. They usually tell residents that they are trying to make sure that everyone who voted in the last election’s vote counted. Some have used the opportunity to drill in with more questions.

On Oct. 14, a Kearney woman said a group running this M.O. came to her door. They asked her for personal information and whether she voted by mail in 2020, and then said that they were trying to uncover “voter fraud.” The woman felt uncomfortable enough to call the police.

“This is not only making Nebraskans feel unsafe in their own homes, but it’s also undermining our democracy,” said John Cartier, Civic Nebraska’s director of voting rights. “Unfortunately, we’ve seen what can happen if enough people indulge in baseless conspiracy theories, as they did on Jan. 6, 2021. Enough is enough.”

So who’s trying to glean details about Americans’ secret ballots? It’s not entirely clear. But it’s highly probable that they’re tied (officially or unofficially) to an ongoing, well-funded effort to perpetuate long-debunked claims of voter fraud in the 2020 election. You should treat them with extreme skepticism.

Here’s what you need to know if they darken your doorstep:

›› Their main motive is to erode the public’s faith in our elections. Assertions of widespread voter fraud, particularly regarding mail-in ballots, are baseless. But that hasn’t kept these folks from continuing to push a range of debunked untruths, whether it be about “outdated voter rolls” or hearsay stories about dead people voting. It’s nonsense, of course, but it doesn’t matter – their short-term goal is to make voters feel unsafe, in that whole “We’ve got our eyes on you” way. Their long play is to make you lose faith in the greatest democracy in the world.

›› They may identify themselves with a group, they might not. But they are not Nebraska or county election officials. Nor are they remotely affiliated with any election officials. It’s clear from some of the reports that even the canvassers are confused as to whether they think they’re acting in an “official” capacity or not, which is sad to hear. Regardless, you can tell them, with confidence and in no uncertain terms, to move along.

›› You are never required to provide personal information or details about how you voted to anyone. The right to cast a secret ballot is a core American value. Voter privacy is vital to election integrity. Our systems work, and they are built to guard against the kind of coercion and intimidation that these canvassers are literally practicing.

›› Should you find these sorts of individuals at your door asking questions, contact Civic Nebraska’s Election Protection Line at 402.890.5291 right away. There’s anecdotal evidence that they’ve generally softened their approach since October, when residents began publicly sharing their conversations in media and with organizations like ours, but we’re still interested in what they’re asking and any other useful information you might have on these activities.

›› You may also report the interaction to your local election officials. Here’s a list of all county election commissioners in Nebraska. Keep it handy, just in case. 

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