News Opinions/Publications The Secret His­to­ry of the Shad­ow Cam­paign That Saved the 2020 Election

The Secret His­to­ry of the Shad­ow Cam­paign That Saved the 2020 Election

A weird thing hap­pened right after the Nov. 3 elec­tion: nothing.

The nation was braced for chaos. Lib­er­al groups had vowed to take to the streets, plan­ning hun­dreds of protests across the coun­try. Right-wing mili­tias were gird­ing for bat­tle. In a poll before Elec­tion Day, 75% of Amer­i­cans voiced con­cern about violence.

Illus­tra­tion by Ryan Olbrysh for TIMEBY MOLLY BALL  FEBRUARY 4, 2021 5:40 AM EST

Instead, an eerie qui­et descend­ed. As Pres­i­dent Trump refused to con­cede, the response was not mass action but crick­ets. When media orga­ni­za­tions called the race for Joe Biden on Nov. 7, jubi­la­tion broke out instead, as peo­ple thronged cities across the U.S. to cel­e­brate the demo­c­ra­t­ic process that result­ed in Trump’s ouster.Reactions Through­out the U.S. After Biden Wins Pres­i­den­tial Race in Unprece­dent­ed Election

A sec­ond odd thing hap­pened amid Trump’s attempts to reverse the result: cor­po­rate Amer­i­ca turned on him. Hun­dreds of major busi­ness lead­ers, many of whom had backed Trump’s can­di­da­cy and sup­port­ed his poli­cies, called on him to con­cede. To the Pres­i­dent, some­thing felt amiss. “It was all very, very strange,” Trump said on Dec. 2. “With­in days after the elec­tion, we wit­nessed an orches­trat­ed effort to anoint the win­ner, even while many key states were still being counted.”

In a way, Trump was right.

There was a con­spir­a­cy unfold­ing behind the scenes, one that both cur­tailed the protests and coor­di­nat­ed the resis­tance from CEOs. Both sur­pris­es were the result of an infor­mal alliance between left-wing activists and busi­ness titans. The pact was for­mal­ized in a terse, lit­tle-noticed joint state­ment of the U.S. Cham­ber of Com­merce and AFL-CIO pub­lished on Elec­tion Day. Both sides would come to see it as a sort of implic­it bar­gain – inspired by the summer’s mas­sive, some­times destruc­tive racial-jus­tice protests – in which the forces of labor came togeth­er with the forces of cap­i­tal to keep the peace and oppose Trump’s assault on democracy.

The hand­shake between busi­ness and labor was just one com­po­nent of a vast, cross-par­ti­san cam­paign to pro­tect the elec­tion – an extra­or­di­nary shad­ow effort ded­i­cat­ed not to win­ning the vote but to ensur­ing it would be free and fair, cred­i­ble and uncor­rupt­ed. For more than a year, a loose­ly orga­nized coali­tion of oper­a­tives scram­bled to shore up America’s insti­tu­tions as they came under simul­ta­ne­ous attack from a remorse­less pan­dem­ic and an auto­crat­i­cal­ly inclined Pres­i­dent. Though much of this activ­i­ty took place on the left, it was sep­a­rate from the Biden cam­paign and crossed ide­o­log­i­cal lines, with cru­cial con­tri­bu­tions by non­par­ti­san and con­ser­v­a­tive actors. The sce­nario the shad­ow cam­paign­ers were des­per­ate to stop was not a Trump vic­to­ry. It was an elec­tion so calami­tous that no result could be dis­cerned at all, a fail­ure of the cen­tral act of demo­c­ra­t­ic self-gov­er­nance that has been a hall­mark of Amer­i­ca since its founding.

Their work touched every aspect of the elec­tion. They got states to change vot­ing sys­tems and laws and helped secure hun­dreds of mil­lions in pub­lic and pri­vate fund­ing. They fend­ed off vot­er-sup­pres­sion law­suits, recruit­ed armies of poll work­ers and got mil­lions of peo­ple to vote by mail for the first time. They suc­cess­ful­ly pres­sured social media com­pa­nies to take a hard­er line against dis­in­for­ma­tion and used data-dri­ven strate­gies to fight viral smears. They exe­cut­ed nation­al pub­lic-aware­ness cam­paigns that helped Amer­i­cans under­stand how the vote count would unfold over days or weeks, pre­vent­ing Trump’s con­spir­a­cy the­o­ries and false claims of vic­to­ry from get­ting more trac­tion. After Elec­tion Day, they mon­i­tored every pres­sure point to ensure that Trump could not over­turn the result. “The untold sto­ry of the elec­tion is the thou­sands of peo­ple of both par­ties who accom­plished the tri­umph of Amer­i­can democ­ra­cy at its very foun­da­tion,” says Norm Eisen, a promi­nent lawyer and for­mer Oba­ma Admin­is­tra­tion offi­cial who recruit­ed Repub­li­cans and Democ­rats to the board of the Vot­er Pro­tec­tion Program.

For Trump and his allies were run­ning their own cam­paign to spoil the elec­tion. The Pres­i­dent spent months insist­ing that mail bal­lots were a Demo­c­ra­t­ic plot and the elec­tion would be “rigged.” His hench­men at the state lev­el sought to block their use, while his lawyers brought dozens of spu­ri­ous suits to make it more dif­fi­cult to vote – an inten­si­fi­ca­tion of the GOP’s lega­cy of sup­pres­sive tac­tics. Before the elec­tion, Trump plot­ted to block a legit­i­mate vote count. And he spent the months fol­low­ing Nov. 3 try­ing to steal the elec­tion he’d lost – with law­suits and con­spir­a­cy the­o­ries, pres­sure on state and local offi­cials, and final­ly sum­mon­ing his army of sup­port­ers to the Jan. 6 ral­ly that end­ed in dead­ly vio­lence at the Capitol.

The democ­ra­cy cam­paign­ers watched with alarm. “Every week, we felt like we were in a strug­gle to try to pull off this elec­tion with­out the coun­try going through a real dan­ger­ous moment of unrav­el­ing,” says for­mer GOP Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Zach Wamp, a Trump sup­port­er who helped coor­di­nate a bipar­ti­san elec­tion-pro­tec­tion coun­cil. “We can look back and say this thing went pret­ty well, but it was not at all clear in Sep­tem­ber and Octo­ber that that was going to be the case.”Biden fans in Philadelphia after the race was called on Nov. 7Biden fans in Philadel­phia after the race was called on Nov. 7 Michelle Gustafson for TIME

This is the inside sto­ry of the con­spir­a­cy to save the 2020 elec­tion, based on access to the group’s inner work­ings, nev­er-before-seen doc­u­ments and inter­views with dozens of those involved from across the polit­i­cal spec­trum. It is the sto­ry of an unprece­dent­ed, cre­ative and deter­mined cam­paign whose suc­cess also reveals how close the nation came to dis­as­ter. “Every attempt to inter­fere with the prop­er out­come of the elec­tion was defeat­ed,” says Ian Bassin, co-founder of Pro­tect Democ­ra­cy, a non­par­ti­san rule-of-law advo­ca­cy group. “But it’s mas­sive­ly impor­tant for the coun­try to under­stand that it didn’t hap­pen acci­den­tal­ly. The sys­tem didn’t work mag­i­cal­ly. Democ­ra­cy is not self-executing.”

That’s why the par­tic­i­pants want the secret his­to­ry of the 2020 elec­tion told, even though it sounds like a para­noid fever dream – a well-fund­ed cabal of pow­er­ful peo­ple, rang­ing across indus­tries and ide­olo­gies, work­ing togeth­er behind the scenes to influ­ence per­cep­tions, change rules and laws, steer media cov­er­age and con­trol the flow of infor­ma­tion. They were not rig­ging the elec­tion; they were for­ti­fy­ing it. And they believe the pub­lic needs to under­stand the system’s fragili­ty in order to ensure that democ­ra­cy in Amer­i­ca endures.


Some­time in the fall of 2019, Mike Pod­horz­er became con­vinced the elec­tion was head­ed for dis­as­ter – and deter­mined to pro­tect it.

This was not his usu­al purview. For near­ly a quar­ter-cen­tu­ry, Pod­horz­er, senior advis­er to the pres­i­dent of the AFL-CIO, the nation’s largest union fed­er­a­tion, has mar­shaled the lat­est tac­tics and data to help its favored can­di­dates win elec­tions. Unas­sum­ing and pro­fes­so­r­i­al, he isn’t the sort of hair-gelled “polit­i­cal strate­gist” who shows up on cable news. Among Demo­c­ra­t­ic insid­ers, he’s known as the wiz­ard behind some of the biggest advances in polit­i­cal tech­nol­o­gy in recent decades. A group of lib­er­al strate­gists he brought togeth­er in the ear­ly 2000s led to the cre­ation of the Ana­lyst Insti­tute, a secre­tive firm that applies sci­en­tif­ic meth­ods to polit­i­cal cam­paigns. He was also involved in the found­ing of Catal­ist, the flag­ship pro­gres­sive data company.

The end­less chat­ter in Wash­ing­ton about “polit­i­cal strat­e­gy,” Pod­horz­er believes, has lit­tle to do with how change real­ly gets made. “My basic take on pol­i­tics is that it’s all pret­ty obvi­ous if you don’t over­think it or swal­low the pre­vail­ing frame­works whole,” he once wrote. “After that, just relent­less­ly iden­ti­fy your assump­tions and chal­lenge them.” Pod­horz­er applies that approach to every­thing: when he coached his now adult son’s Lit­tle League team in the D.C. sub­urbs, he trained the boys not to swing at most pitch­es – a tac­tic that infu­ri­at­ed both their and their oppo­nents’ par­ents, but won the team a series of championships.

Trump’s elec­tion in 2016 – cred­it­ed in part to his unusu­al strength among the sort of blue col­lar white vot­ers who once dom­i­nat­ed the AFL-CIO – prompt­ed Pod­horz­er to ques­tion his assump­tions about vot­er behav­ior. He began cir­cu­lat­ing week­ly num­ber-crunch­ing mem­os to a small cir­cle of allies and host­ing strat­e­gy ses­sions in D.C. But when he began to wor­ry about the elec­tion itself, he didn’t want to seem para­noid. It was only after months of research that he intro­duced his con­cerns in his newslet­ter in Octo­ber 2019. The usu­al tools of data, ana­lyt­ics and polling would not be suf­fi­cient in a sit­u­a­tion where the Pres­i­dent him­self was try­ing to dis­rupt the elec­tion, he wrote. “Most of our plan­ning takes us through Elec­tion Day,” he not­ed. “But, we are not pre­pared for the two most like­ly out­comes” – Trump los­ing and refus­ing to con­cede, and Trump win­ning the Elec­toral Col­lege (despite los­ing the pop­u­lar vote) by cor­rupt­ing the vot­ing process in key states. “We des­per­ate­ly need to sys­tem­at­i­cal­ly ‘red-team’ this elec­tion so that we can antic­i­pate and plan for the worst we know will be com­ing our way.”

It turned out Pod­horz­er wasn’t the only one think­ing in these terms. He began to hear from oth­ers eager to join forces. The Fight Back Table, a coali­tion of “resis­tance” orga­ni­za­tions, had begun sce­nario-plan­ning around the poten­tial for a con­test­ed elec­tion, gath­er­ing lib­er­al activists at the local and nation­al lev­el into what they called the Democ­ra­cy Defense Coali­tion. Vot­ing-rights and civ­il rights orga­ni­za­tions were rais­ing alarms. A group of for­mer elect­ed offi­cials was research­ing emer­gency pow­ers they feared Trump might exploit. Pro­tect Democ­ra­cy was assem­bling a bipar­ti­san elec­tion-cri­sis task force. “It turned out that once you said it out loud, peo­ple agreed,” Pod­horz­er says, “and it start­ed build­ing momentum.”

He spent months pon­der­ing sce­nar­ios and talk­ing to experts. It wasn’t hard to find lib­er­als who saw Trump as a dan­ger­ous dic­ta­tor, but Pod­horz­er was care­ful to steer clear of hys­te­ria. What he want­ed to know was not how Amer­i­can democ­ra­cy was dying but how it might be kept alive. The chief dif­fer­ence between the U.S. and coun­tries that lost their grip on democ­ra­cy, he con­clud­ed, was that America’s decen­tral­ized elec­tion sys­tem couldn’t be rigged in one fell swoop. That pre­sent­ed an oppor­tu­ni­ty to shore it up.


On March 3, Pod­horz­er draft­ed a three-page con­fi­den­tial memo titled “Threats to the 2020 Elec­tion.” “Trump has made it clear that this will not be a fair elec­tion, and that he will reject any­thing but his own re-elec­tion as ‘fake’ and rigged,” he wrote. “On Nov. 3, should the media report oth­er­wise, he will use the right-wing infor­ma­tion sys­tem to estab­lish his nar­ra­tive and incite his sup­port­ers to protest.” The memo laid out four cat­e­gories of chal­lenges: attacks on vot­ers, attacks on elec­tion admin­is­tra­tion, attacks on Trump’s polit­i­cal oppo­nents and “efforts to reverse the results of the election.”

Then COVID-19 erupt­ed at the height of the pri­ma­ry-elec­tion sea­son. Nor­mal meth­ods of vot­ing were no longer safe for vot­ers or the most­ly elder­ly vol­un­teers who nor­mal­ly staff polling places. But polit­i­cal dis­agree­ments, inten­si­fied by Trump’s cru­sade against mail vot­ing, pre­vent­ed some states from mak­ing it eas­i­er to vote absen­tee and for juris­dic­tions to count those votes in a time­ly man­ner. Chaos ensued. Ohio shut down in-per­son vot­ing for its pri­ma­ry, lead­ing to minus­cule turnout. A poll-work­er short­age in Mil­wau­kee – where Wisconsin’s heav­i­ly Demo­c­ra­t­ic Black pop­u­la­tion is con­cen­trat­ed – left just five open polling places, down from 182. In New York, vote count­ing took more than a month.

Sud­den­ly, the poten­tial for a Novem­ber melt­down was obvi­ous. In his apart­ment in the D.C. sub­urbs, Pod­horz­er began work­ing from his lap­top at his kitchen table, hold­ing back-to-back Zoom meet­ings for hours a day with his net­work of con­tacts across the pro­gres­sive uni­verse: the labor move­ment; the insti­tu­tion­al left, like Planned Par­ent­hood and Green­peace; resis­tance groups like Indi­vis­i­ble and MoveOn; pro­gres­sive data geeks and strate­gists, rep­re­sen­ta­tives of donors and foun­da­tions, state-lev­el grass­roots orga­niz­ers, racial-jus­tice activists and others.

In April, Pod­horz­er began host­ing a week­ly 2½-hour Zoom. It was struc­tured around a series of rapid-fire five-minute pre­sen­ta­tions on every­thing from which ads were work­ing to mes­sag­ing to legal strat­e­gy. The invi­ta­tion-only gath­er­ings soon attract­ed hun­dreds, cre­at­ing a rare shared base of knowl­edge for the frac­tious pro­gres­sive move­ment. “At the risk of talk­ing trash about the left, there’s not a lot of good infor­ma­tion shar­ing,” says Anat Shenker-Oso­rio, a close Pod­horz­er friend whose poll-test­ed mes­sag­ing guid­ance shaped the group’s approach. “There’s a lot of not-invent­ed-here syn­drome, where peo­ple won’t con­sid­er a good idea if they didn’t come up with it.”

The meet­ings became the galac­tic cen­ter for a con­stel­la­tion of oper­a­tives across the left who shared over­lap­ping goals but didn’t usu­al­ly work in con­cert. The group had no name, no lead­ers and no hier­ar­chy, but it kept the dis­parate actors in sync. “Pod played a crit­i­cal behind-the-scenes role in keep­ing dif­fer­ent pieces of the move­ment infra­struc­ture in com­mu­ni­ca­tion and aligned,” says Mau­rice Mitchell, nation­al direc­tor of the Work­ing Fam­i­lies Par­ty. “You have the lit­i­ga­tion space, the orga­niz­ing space, the polit­i­cal peo­ple just focused on the W, and their strate­gies aren’t always aligned. He allowed this ecosys­tem to work together.”

Pro­tect­ing the elec­tion would require an effort of unprece­dent­ed scale. As 2020 pro­gressed, it stretched to Con­gress, Sil­i­con Val­ley and the nation’s state­hous­es. It drew ener­gy from the summer’s racial-jus­tice protests, many of whose lead­ers were a key part of the lib­er­al alliance. And even­tu­al­ly it reached across the aisle, into the world of Trump-skep­ti­cal Repub­li­cans appalled by his attacks on democracy.


The first task was over­haul­ing America’s balky elec­tion infra­struc­ture – in the mid­dle of a pan­dem­ic. For the thou­sands of local, most­ly non­par­ti­san offi­cials who admin­is­ter elec­tions, the most urgent need was mon­ey. They need­ed pro­tec­tive equip­ment like masks, gloves and hand san­i­tiz­er. They need­ed to pay for post­cards let­ting peo­ple know they could vote absen­tee – or, in some states, to mail bal­lots to every vot­er. They need­ed addi­tion­al staff and scan­ners to process ballots.

In March, activists appealed to Con­gress to steer COVID relief mon­ey to elec­tion admin­is­tra­tion. Led by the Lead­er­ship Con­fer­ence on Civ­il and Human Rights, more than 150 orga­ni­za­tions signed a let­ter to every mem­ber of Con­gress seek­ing $2 bil­lion in elec­tion fund­ing. It was some­what suc­cess­ful: the CARES Act, passed lat­er that month, con­tained $400 mil­lion in grants to state elec­tion admin­is­tra­tors. But the next tranche of relief fund­ing didn’t add to that num­ber. It wasn’t going to be enough.

Pri­vate phil­an­thropy stepped into the breach. An assort­ment of foun­da­tions con­tributed tens of mil­lions in elec­tion-admin­is­tra­tion fund­ing. The Chan Zucker­berg Ini­tia­tive chipped in $300 mil­lion. “It was a fail­ure at the fed­er­al lev­el that 2,500 local elec­tion offi­cials were forced to apply for phil­an­thropic grants to fill their needs,” says Amber McReynolds, a for­mer Den­ver elec­tion offi­cial who heads the non­par­ti­san Nation­al Vote at Home Institute.

McReynolds’ two-year-old orga­ni­za­tion became a clear­ing­house for a nation strug­gling to adapt. The insti­tute gave sec­re­taries of state from both par­ties tech­ni­cal advice on every­thing from which ven­dors to use to how to locate drop box­es. Local offi­cials are the most trust­ed sources of elec­tion infor­ma­tion, but few can afford a press sec­re­tary, so the insti­tute dis­trib­uted com­mu­ni­ca­tions tool kits. In a pre­sen­ta­tion to Podhorzer’s group, McReynolds detailed the impor­tance of absen­tee bal­lots for short­en­ing lines at polling places and pre­vent­ing an elec­tion crisis.

The institute’s work helped 37 states and D.C. bol­ster mail vot­ing. But it wouldn’t be worth much if peo­ple didn’t take advan­tage. Part of the chal­lenge was logis­ti­cal: each state has dif­fer­ent rules for when and how bal­lots should be request­ed and returned. The Vot­er Par­tic­i­pa­tion Cen­ter, which in a nor­mal year would have sup­port­ed local groups deploy­ing can­vassers door-to-door to get out the vote, instead con­duct­ed focus groups in April and May to find out what would get peo­ple to vote by mail. In August and Sep­tem­ber, it sent bal­lot appli­ca­tions to 15 mil­lion peo­ple in key states, 4.6 mil­lion of whom returned them. In mail­ings and dig­i­tal ads, the group urged peo­ple not to wait for Elec­tion Day. “All the work we have done for 17 years was built for this moment of bring­ing democ­ra­cy to people’s doorsteps,” says Tom Lopach, the center’s CEO.

The effort had to over­come height­ened skep­ti­cism in some com­mu­ni­ties. Many Black vot­ers pre­ferred to exer­cise their fran­chise in per­son or didn’t trust the mail. Nation­al civ­il rights groups worked with local orga­ni­za­tions to get the word out that this was the best way to ensure one’s vote was count­ed. In Philadel­phia, for exam­ple, advo­cates dis­trib­uted “vot­ing safe­ty kits” con­tain­ing masks, hand san­i­tiz­er and infor­ma­tion­al brochures. “We had to get the mes­sage out that this is safe, reli­able, and you can trust it,” says Han­nah Fried of All Vot­ing Is Local.

At the same time, Demo­c­ra­t­ic lawyers bat­tled a his­toric tide of pre-elec­tion lit­i­ga­tion. The pan­dem­ic inten­si­fied the par­ties’ usu­al tan­gling in the courts. But the lawyers noticed some­thing else as well. “The lit­i­ga­tion brought by the Trump cam­paign, of a piece with the broad­er cam­paign to sow doubt about mail vot­ing, was mak­ing nov­el claims and using the­o­ries no court has ever accept­ed,” says Wendy Weis­er, a vot­ing-rights expert at the Bren­nan Cen­ter for Jus­tice at NYU. “They read more like law­suits designed to send a mes­sage rather than achieve a legal outcome.”

In the end, near­ly half the elec­torate cast bal­lots by mail in 2020, prac­ti­cal­ly a rev­o­lu­tion in how peo­ple vote. About a quar­ter vot­ed ear­ly in per­son. Only a quar­ter of vot­ers cast their bal­lots the tra­di­tion­al way: in per­son on Elec­tion Day.


Bad actors spread­ing false infor­ma­tion is noth­ing new. For decades, cam­paigns have grap­pled with every­thing from anony­mous calls claim­ing the elec­tion has been resched­uled to fliers spread­ing nasty smears about can­di­dates’ fam­i­lies. But Trump’s lies and con­spir­a­cy the­o­ries, the viral force of social media and the involve­ment of for­eign med­dlers made dis­in­for­ma­tion a broad­er, deep­er threat to the 2020 vote.

Lau­ra Quinn, a vet­er­an pro­gres­sive oper­a­tive who co-found­ed Catal­ist, began study­ing this prob­lem a few years ago. She pilot­ed a name­less, secret project, which she has nev­er before pub­licly dis­cussed, that tracked dis­in­for­ma­tion online and tried to fig­ure out how to com­bat it. One com­po­nent was track­ing dan­ger­ous lies that might oth­er­wise spread unno­ticed. Researchers then pro­vid­ed infor­ma­tion to cam­paign­ers or the media to track down the sources and expose them.

The most impor­tant take­away from Quinn’s research, how­ev­er, was that engag­ing with tox­ic con­tent only made it worse. “When you get attacked, the instinct is to push back, call it out, say, ‘This isn’t true,’” Quinn says. “But the more engage­ment some­thing gets, the more the plat­forms boost it. The algo­rithm reads that as, ‘Oh, this is pop­u­lar; peo­ple want more of it.’”

The solu­tion, she con­clud­ed, was to pres­sure plat­forms to enforce their rules, both by remov­ing con­tent or accounts that spread dis­in­for­ma­tion and by more aggres­sive­ly polic­ing it in the first place. “The plat­forms have poli­cies against cer­tain types of malign behav­ior, but they haven’t been enforc­ing them,” she says.

Quinn’s research gave ammu­ni­tion to advo­cates push­ing social media plat­forms to take a hard­er line. In Novem­ber 2019, Mark Zucker­berg invit­ed nine civ­il rights lead­ers to din­ner at his home, where they warned him about the dan­ger of the elec­tion-relat­ed false­hoods that were already spread­ing unchecked. “It took push­ing, urg­ing, con­ver­sa­tions, brain­storm­ing, all of that to get to a place where we end­ed up with more rig­or­ous rules and enforce­ment,” says Vani­ta Gup­ta, pres­i­dent and CEO of the Lead­er­ship Con­fer­ence on Civ­il and Human Rights, who attend­ed the din­ner and also met with Twit­ter CEO Jack Dorsey and oth­ers. (Gup­ta has been nom­i­nat­ed for Asso­ciate Attor­ney Gen­er­al by Pres­i­dent Biden.) “It was a strug­gle, but we got to the point where they under­stood the prob­lem. Was it enough? Prob­a­bly not. Was it lat­er than we want­ed? Yes. But it was real­ly impor­tant, giv­en the lev­el of offi­cial dis­in­for­ma­tion, that they had those rules in place and were tag­ging things and tak­ing them down.”


Beyond bat­tling bad infor­ma­tion, there was a need to explain a rapid­ly chang­ing elec­tion process. It was cru­cial for vot­ers to under­stand that despite what Trump was say­ing, mail-in votes weren’t sus­cep­ti­ble to fraud and that it would be nor­mal if some states weren’t fin­ished count­ing votes on elec­tion night.

Dick Gephardt, the Demo­c­ra­t­ic for­mer House leader turned high-pow­ered lob­by­ist, spear­head­ed one coali­tion. “We want­ed to get a real­ly bipar­ti­san group of for­mer elect­ed offi­cials, Cab­i­net sec­re­taries, mil­i­tary lead­ers and so on, aimed main­ly at mes­sag­ing to the pub­lic but also speak­ing to local offi­cials – the sec­re­taries of state, attor­neys gen­er­al, gov­er­nors who would be in the eye of the storm – to let them know we want­ed to help,” says Gephardt, who worked his con­tacts in the pri­vate sec­tor to put $20 mil­lion behind the effort.

Wamp, the for­mer GOP Con­gress­man, worked through the non­par­ti­san reform group Issue One to ral­ly Repub­li­cans to the effort. “We thought we should bring some bipar­ti­san ele­ment of uni­ty around what con­sti­tutes a free and fair elec­tion,” Wamp says. The 22 Democ­rats and 22 Repub­li­cans on the Nation­al Coun­cil on Elec­tion Integri­ty met on Zoom at least once a week. They ran ads in six states, made state­ments, wrote arti­cles and alert­ed local offi­cials to poten­tial prob­lems. “We had rabid Trump sup­port­ers who agreed to serve on the coun­cil based on the idea that this is hon­est,” Wamp says. This is going to be just as impor­tant, he told them, to con­vince the lib­er­als when Trump wins. “Whichev­er way it cuts, we’re going to stick together.”

The Vot­ing Rights Lab and IntoAc­tion cre­at­ed state-spe­cif­ic memes and graph­ics, spread by email, text, Twit­ter, Face­book, Insta­gram and Tik­Tok, urg­ing that every vote be count­ed. Togeth­er, they were viewed more than 1 bil­lion times. Pro­tect Democracy’s elec­tion task force issued reports and held media brief­in­gs with high-pro­file experts across the polit­i­cal spec­trum, result­ing in wide­spread cov­er­age of poten­tial elec­tion issues and fact-check­ing of Trump’s false claims. The organization’s track­ing polls found the mes­sage was being heard: the per­cent­age of the pub­lic that didn’t expect to know the win­ner on elec­tion night grad­u­al­ly rose until by late Octo­ber, it was over 70%. A major­i­ty also believed that a pro­longed count wasn’t a sign of prob­lems. “We knew exact­ly what Trump was going to do: he was going to try to use the fact that Democ­rats vot­ed by mail and Repub­li­cans vot­ed in per­son to make it look like he was ahead, claim vic­to­ry, say the mail-in votes were fraud­u­lent and try to get them thrown out,” says Pro­tect Democracy’s Bassin. Set­ting pub­lic expec­ta­tions ahead of time helped under­cut those lies.

Amber McReynolds, Zach Wamp and Maurice MitchellAmber McReynolds, Zach Wamp and Mau­rice Mitchell Rachel Woolf for TIME; Erik Schelzig — AP/Shutterstock; Hol­ly Pick­ett — The New York Times/Redux

The alliance took a com­mon set of themes from the research Shenker-Oso­rio pre­sent­ed at Podhorzer’s Zooms. Stud­ies have shown that when peo­ple don’t think their vote will count or fear cast­ing it will be a has­sle, they’re far less like­ly to par­tic­i­pate. Through­out elec­tion sea­son, mem­bers of Podhorzer’s group min­i­mized inci­dents of vot­er intim­i­da­tion and tamped down ris­ing lib­er­al hys­te­ria about Trump’s expect­ed refusal to con­cede. They didn’t want to ampli­fy false claims by engag­ing them, or put peo­ple off vot­ing by sug­gest­ing a rigged game. “When you say, ‘These claims of fraud are spu­ri­ous,’ what peo­ple hear is ‘fraud,’” Shenker-Oso­rio says. “What we saw in our pre-elec­tion research was that any­thing that reaf­firmed Trump’s pow­er or cast him as an author­i­tar­i­an dimin­ished people’s desire to vote.”

Pod­horz­er, mean­while, was warn­ing every­one he knew that polls were under­es­ti­mat­ing Trump’s sup­port. The data he shared with media orga­ni­za­tions who would be call­ing the elec­tion was “tremen­dous­ly use­ful” to under­stand what was hap­pen­ing as the votes rolled in, accord­ing to a mem­ber of a major network’s polit­i­cal unit who spoke with Pod­horz­er before Elec­tion Day. Most ana­lysts had rec­og­nized there would be a “blue shift” in key bat­tle­grounds– the surge of votes break­ing toward Democ­rats, dri­ven by tal­lies of mail-in bal­lots– but they hadn’t com­pre­hend­ed how much bet­ter Trump was like­ly to do on Elec­tion Day. “Being able to doc­u­ment how big the absen­tee wave would be and the vari­ance by state was essen­tial,” the ana­lyst says.


The racial-jus­tice upris­ing sparked by George Floyd’s killing in May was not pri­mar­i­ly a polit­i­cal move­ment. The orga­niz­ers who helped lead it want­ed to har­ness its momen­tum for the elec­tion with­out allow­ing it to be co-opt­ed by politi­cians. Many of those orga­niz­ers were part of Podhorzer’s net­work, from the activists in bat­tle­ground states who part­nered with the Democ­ra­cy Defense Coali­tion to orga­ni­za­tions with lead­ing roles in the Move­ment for Black Lives.

The best way to ensure people’s voic­es were heard, they decid­ed, was to pro­tect their abil­i­ty to vote. “We start­ed think­ing about a pro­gram that would com­ple­ment the tra­di­tion­al elec­tion-pro­tec­tion area but also didn’t rely on call­ing the police,” says Neli­ni Stamp, the Work­ing Fam­i­lies Party’s nation­al orga­niz­ing direc­tor. They cre­at­ed a force of “elec­tion defend­ers” who, unlike tra­di­tion­al poll watch­ers, were trained in de-esca­la­tion tech­niques. Dur­ing ear­ly vot­ing and on Elec­tion Day, they sur­round­ed lines of vot­ers in urban areas with a “joy to the polls” effort that turned the act of cast­ing a bal­lot into a street par­ty. Black orga­niz­ers also recruit­ed thou­sands of poll work­ers to ensure polling places would stay open in their communities.

The sum­mer upris­ing had shown that peo­ple pow­er could have a mas­sive impact. Activists began prepar­ing to reprise the demon­stra­tions if Trump tried to steal the elec­tion. “Amer­i­cans plan wide­spread protests if Trump inter­feres with elec­tion,” Reuters report­ed in Octo­ber, one of many such sto­ries. More than 150 lib­er­al groups, from the Women’s March to the Sier­ra Club to Col­or of Change, from Democ​rats​.com to the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Social­ists of Amer­i­ca, joined the “Pro­tect the Results” coali­tion. The group’s now defunct web­site had a map list­ing 400 planned post­elec­tion demon­stra­tions, to be acti­vat­ed via text mes­sage as soon as Nov. 4. To stop the coup they feared, the left was ready to flood the streets.


About a week before Elec­tion Day, Pod­horz­er received an unex­pect­ed mes­sage: the U.S. Cham­ber of Com­merce want­ed to talk.

The AFL-CIO and the Cham­ber have a long his­to­ry of antag­o­nism. Though nei­ther orga­ni­za­tion is explic­it­ly par­ti­san, the influ­en­tial busi­ness lob­by has poured hun­dreds of mil­lions of dol­lars into Repub­li­can cam­paigns, just as the nation’s unions fun­nel hun­dreds of mil­lions to Democ­rats. On one side is labor, on the oth­er man­age­ment, locked in an eter­nal strug­gle for pow­er and resources.

But behind the scenes, the busi­ness com­mu­ni­ty was engaged in its own anx­ious dis­cus­sions about how the elec­tion and its after­math might unfold. The summer’s racial-jus­tice protests had sent a sig­nal to busi­ness own­ers too: the poten­tial for econ­o­my-dis­rupt­ing civ­il dis­or­der. “With ten­sions run­ning high, there was a lot of con­cern about unrest around the elec­tion, or a break­down in our nor­mal way we han­dle con­tentious elec­tions,” says Neil Bradley, the Chamber’s exec­u­tive vice pres­i­dent and chief pol­i­cy offi­cer. These wor­ries had led the Cham­ber to release a pre-elec­tion state­ment with the Busi­ness Round­table, a Wash­ing­ton-based CEOs’ group, as well as asso­ci­a­tions of man­u­fac­tur­ers, whole­salers and retail­ers, call­ing for patience and con­fi­dence as votes were counted.

But Bradley want­ed to send a broad­er, more bipar­ti­san mes­sage. He reached out to Pod­horz­er, through an inter­me­di­ary both men declined to name. Agree­ing that their unlike­ly alliance would be pow­er­ful, they began to dis­cuss a joint state­ment pledg­ing their orga­ni­za­tions’ shared com­mit­ment to a fair and peace­ful elec­tion. They chose their words care­ful­ly and sched­uled the statement’s release for max­i­mum impact. As it was being final­ized, Chris­t­ian lead­ers sig­naled their inter­est in join­ing, fur­ther broad­en­ing its reach.

The state­ment was released on Elec­tion Day, under the names of Cham­ber CEO Thomas Dono­hue, AFL-CIO pres­i­dent Richard Trum­ka, and the heads of the Nation­al Asso­ci­a­tion of Evan­gel­i­cals and the Nation­al African Amer­i­can Cler­gy Net­work. “It is imper­a­tive that elec­tion offi­cials be giv­en the space and time to count every vote in accor­dance with applic­a­ble laws,” it stat­ed. “We call on the media, the can­di­dates and the Amer­i­can peo­ple to exer­cise patience with the process and trust in our sys­tem, even if it requires more time than usu­al.” The groups added, “Although we may not always agree on desired out­comes up and down the bal­lot, we are unit­ed in our call for the Amer­i­can demo­c­ra­t­ic process to pro­ceed with­out vio­lence, intim­i­da­tion or any oth­er tac­tic that makes us weak­er as a nation.”


Elec­tion night began with many Democ­rats despair­ing. Trump was run­ning ahead of pre-elec­tion polling, win­ning Flori­da, Ohio and Texas eas­i­ly and keep­ing Michi­gan, Wis­con­sin and Penn­syl­va­nia too close to call. But Pod­horz­er was unper­turbed when I spoke to him that night: the returns were exact­ly in line with his mod­el­ing. He had been warn­ing for weeks that Trump vot­ers’ turnout was surg­ing. As the num­bers drib­bled out, he could tell that as long as all the votes were count­ed, Trump would lose.

The lib­er­al alliance gath­ered for an 11 p.m. Zoom call. Hun­dreds joined; many were freak­ing out. “It was real­ly impor­tant for me and the team in that moment to help ground peo­ple in what we had already known was true,” says Angela Peo­ples, direc­tor for the Democ­ra­cy Defense Coali­tion. Pod­horz­er pre­sent­ed data to show the group that vic­to­ry was in hand.

While he was talk­ing, Fox News sur­prised every­one by call­ing Ari­zona for Biden. The pub­lic-aware­ness cam­paign had worked: TV anchors were bend­ing over back­ward to coun­sel cau­tion and frame the vote count accu­rate­ly. The ques­tion then became what to do next.

The con­ver­sa­tion that fol­lowed was a dif­fi­cult one, led by the activists charged with the protest strat­e­gy. “We want­ed to be mind­ful of when was the right time to call for mov­ing mass­es of peo­ple into the street,” Peo­ples says. As much as they were eager to mount a show of strength, mobi­liz­ing imme­di­ate­ly could back­fire and put peo­ple at risk. Protests that devolved into vio­lent clash­es would give Trump a pre­text to send in fed­er­al agents or troops as he had over the sum­mer. And rather than ele­vate Trump’s com­plaints by con­tin­u­ing to fight him, the alliance want­ed to send the mes­sage that the peo­ple had spoken.

So the word went out: stand down. Pro­tect the Results announced that it would “not be acti­vat­ing the entire nation­al mobi­liza­tion net­work today, but remains ready to acti­vate if nec­es­sary.” On Twit­ter, out­raged pro­gres­sives won­dered what was going on. Why wasn’t any­one try­ing to stop Trump’s coup? Where were all the protests?

Pod­horz­er cred­its the activists for their restraint. “They had spent so much time get­ting ready to hit the streets on Wednes­day. But they did it,” he says. “Wednes­day through Fri­day, there was not a sin­gle Antifa vs. Proud Boys inci­dent like every­one was expect­ing. And when that didn’t mate­ri­al­ize, I don’t think the Trump cam­paign had a back­up plan.”

Activists reori­ent­ed the Pro­tect the Results protests toward a week­end of cel­e­bra­tion. “Counter their dis­in­fo with our con­fi­dence & get ready to cel­e­brate,” read the mes­sag­ing guid­ance Shenker-Oso­rio pre­sent­ed to the lib­er­al alliance on Fri­day, Nov. 6. “Declare and for­ti­fy our win. Vibe: con­fi­dent, for­ward-look­ing, uni­fied – NOT pas­sive, anx­ious.” The vot­ers, not the can­di­dates, would be the pro­tag­o­nists of the story.

The planned day of cel­e­bra­tion hap­pened to coin­cide with the elec­tion being called on Nov. 7. Activists danc­ing in the streets of Philadel­phia blast­ed Bey­on­cé over an attempt­ed Trump cam­paign press con­fer­ence; the Trumpers’ next con­fab was sched­uled for Four Sea­sons Total Land­scap­ing out­side the city cen­ter, which activists believe was not a coin­ci­dence. “The peo­ple of Philadel­phia owned the streets of Philadel­phia,” crows the Work­ing Fam­i­lies Party’s Mitchell. “We made them look ridicu­lous by con­trast­ing our joy­ous cel­e­bra­tion of democ­ra­cy with their clown show.”

The votes had been count­ed. Trump had lost. But the bat­tle wasn’t over.


In Podhorzer’s pre­sen­ta­tions, win­ning the vote was only the first step to win­ning the elec­tion. After that came win­ning the count, win­ning the cer­ti­fi­ca­tion, win­ning the Elec­toral Col­lege and win­ning the tran­si­tion – steps that are nor­mal­ly for­mal­i­ties but that he knew Trump would see as oppor­tu­ni­ties for dis­rup­tion. Nowhere would that be more evi­dent than in Michi­gan, where Trump’s pres­sure on local Repub­li­cans came per­ilous­ly close to work­ing – and where lib­er­al and con­ser­v­a­tive pro-democ­ra­cy forces joined to counter it.

It was around 10 p.m. on elec­tion night in Detroit when a flur­ry of texts lit up the phone of Art Reyes III. A bus­load of Repub­li­can elec­tion observers had arrived at the TCF Cen­ter, where votes were being tal­lied. They were crowd­ing the vote-count­ing tables, refus­ing to wear masks, heck­ling the most­ly Black work­ers. Reyes, a Flint native who leads We the Peo­ple Michi­gan, was expect­ing this. For months, con­ser­v­a­tive groups had been sow­ing sus­pi­cion about urban vote fraud. “The lan­guage was, ‘They’re going to steal the elec­tion; there will be fraud in Detroit,’ long before any vote was cast,” Reyes says.

Trump supporters seek to disrupt the vote count at Detroit’s TCF Center on Nov. 4Trump sup­port­ers seek to dis­rupt the vote count at Detroit’s TCF Cen­ter on Nov. 4 Elaine Cromie — Get­ty Images

He made his way to the are­na and sent word to his net­work. With­in 45 min­utes, dozens of rein­force­ments had arrived. As they entered the are­na to pro­vide a coun­ter­weight to the GOP observers inside, Reyes took down their cell-phone num­bers and added them to a mas­sive text chain. Racial-jus­tice activists from Detroit Will Breathe worked along­side sub­ur­ban women from Fems for Dems and local elect­ed offi­cials. Reyes left at 3 a.m., hand­ing the text chain over to a dis­abil­i­ty activist.

As they mapped out the steps in the elec­tion-cer­ti­fi­ca­tion process, activists set­tled on a strat­e­gy of fore­ground­ing the people’s right to decide, demand­ing their voic­es be heard and call­ing atten­tion to the racial impli­ca­tions of dis­en­fran­chis­ing Black Detroi­ters. They flood­ed the Wayne Coun­ty can­vass­ing board’s Nov. 17 cer­ti­fi­ca­tion meet­ing with on-mes­sage tes­ti­mo­ny; despite a Trump tweet, the Repub­li­can board mem­bers cer­ti­fied Detroit’s votes.

Elec­tion boards were one pres­sure point; anoth­er was GOP-con­trolled leg­is­la­tures, who Trump believed could declare the elec­tion void and appoint their own elec­tors. And so the Pres­i­dent invit­ed the GOP lead­ers of the Michi­gan leg­is­la­ture, House Speak­er Lee Chat­field and Sen­ate major­i­ty leader Mike Shirkey, to Wash­ing­ton on Nov. 20.

It was a per­ilous moment. If Chat­field and Shirkey agreed to do Trump’s bid­ding, Repub­li­cans in oth­er states might be sim­i­lar­ly bul­lied. “I was con­cerned things were going to get weird,” says Jeff Tim­mer, a for­mer Michi­gan GOP exec­u­tive direc­tor turned anti-Trump activist. Norm Eisen describes it as “the scari­est moment” of the entire election.

The democ­ra­cy defend­ers launched a full-court press. Pro­tect Democracy’s local con­tacts researched the law­mak­ers’ per­son­al and polit­i­cal motives. Issue One ran tele­vi­sion ads in Lans­ing. The Chamber’s Bradley kept close tabs on the process. Wamp, the for­mer Repub­li­can Con­gress­man, called his for­mer col­league Mike Rogers, who wrote an op-ed for the Detroit news­pa­pers urg­ing offi­cials to hon­or the will of the vot­ers. Three for­mer Michi­gan gov­er­nors – Repub­li­cans John Engler and Rick Sny­der and Demo­c­rat Jen­nifer Granholm – joint­ly called for Michigan’s elec­toral votes to be cast free of pres­sure from the White House. Engler, a for­mer head of the Busi­ness Round­table, made phone calls to influ­en­tial donors and fel­low GOP elder states­men who could press the law­mak­ers privately.

The pro-democ­ra­cy forces were up against a Trumpi­fied Michi­gan GOP con­trolled by allies of Ron­na McDaniel, the Repub­li­can Nation­al Com­mit­tee chair, and Bet­sy DeVos, the for­mer Edu­ca­tion Sec­re­tary and a mem­ber of a bil­lion­aire fam­i­ly of GOP donors. On a call with his team on Nov. 18, Bassin vent­ed that his side’s pres­sure was no match for what Trump could offer. “Of course he’s going to try to offer them some­thing,” Bassin recalls think­ing. “Head of the Space Force! Ambas­sador to wher­ev­er! We can’t com­pete with that by offer­ing car­rots. We need a stick.”

If Trump were to offer some­thing in exchange for a per­son­al favor, that would like­ly con­sti­tute bribery, Bassin rea­soned. He phoned Richard Primus, a law pro­fes­sor at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Michi­gan, to see if Primus agreed and would make the argu­ment pub­licly. Primus said he thought the meet­ing itself was inap­pro­pri­ate, and got to work on an op-ed for Politi­co warn­ing that the state attor­ney gen­er­al – a Demo­c­rat – would have no choice but to inves­ti­gate. When the piece post­ed on Nov. 19, the attor­ney general’s com­mu­ni­ca­tions direc­tor tweet­ed it. Pro­tect Democ­ra­cy soon got word that the law­mak­ers planned to bring lawyers to the meet­ing with Trump the next day.

Reyes’ activists scanned flight sched­ules and flocked to the air­ports on both ends of Shirkey’s jour­ney to D.C., to under­score that the law­mak­ers were being scru­ti­nized. After the meet­ing, the pair announced they’d pressed the Pres­i­dent to deliv­er COVID relief for their con­stituents and informed him they saw no role in the elec­tion process. Then they went for a drink at the Trump hotel on Penn­syl­va­nia Avenue. A street artist pro­ject­ed their images onto the out­side of the build­ing along with the words THE WORLD IS WATCHING.

That left one last step: the state can­vass­ing board, made up of two Democ­rats and two Repub­li­cans. One Repub­li­can, a Trumper employed by the DeVos family’s polit­i­cal non­prof­it, was not expect­ed to vote for cer­ti­fi­ca­tion. The oth­er Repub­li­can on the board was a lit­tle-known lawyer named Aaron Van Langevelde. He sent no sig­nals about what he planned to do, leav­ing every­one on edge.

When the meet­ing began, Reyes’s activists flood­ed the livestream and filled Twit­ter with their hash­tag, #alleyeson­mi. A board accus­tomed to atten­dance in the sin­gle dig­its sud­den­ly faced an audi­ence of thou­sands. In hours of tes­ti­mo­ny, the activists empha­sized their mes­sage of respect­ing vot­ers’ wish­es and affirm­ing democ­ra­cy rather than scold­ing the offi­cials. Van Langevelde quick­ly sig­naled he would fol­low prece­dent. The vote was 3 – 0 to cer­ti­fy; the oth­er Repub­li­can abstained.

After that, the domi­noes fell. Penn­syl­va­nia, Wis­con­sin and the rest of the states cer­ti­fied their elec­tors. Repub­li­can offi­cials in Ari­zona and Geor­gia stood up to Trump’s bul­ly­ing. And the Elec­toral Col­lege vot­ed on sched­ule on Dec. 14.


There was one last mile­stone on Podhorzer’s mind: Jan. 6. On the day Con­gress would meet to tal­ly the elec­toral count, Trump sum­moned his sup­port­ers to D.C. for a rally.

Much to their sur­prise, the thou­sands who answered his call were met by vir­tu­al­ly no coun­ter­demon­stra­tors. To pre­serve safe­ty and ensure they couldn’t be blamed for any may­hem, the activist left was “stren­u­ous­ly dis­cour­ag­ing counter activ­i­ty,” Pod­horz­er texted me the morn­ing of Jan. 6, with a crossed-fin­gers emoji.Incited by the Pres­i­dent, Trump Sup­port­ers Vio­lent­ly Storm the Capitol

Trump addressed the crowd that after­noon, ped­dling the lie that law­mak­ers or Vice Pres­i­dent Mike Pence could reject states’ elec­toral votes. He told them to go to the Capi­tol and “fight like hell.” Then he returned to the White House as they sacked the build­ing. As law­mak­ers fled for their lives and his own sup­port­ers were shot and tram­pled, Trump praised the riot­ers as “very special.”

It was his final attack on democ­ra­cy, and once again, it failed. By stand­ing down, the democ­ra­cy cam­paign­ers out­foxed their foes. “We won by the skin of our teeth, hon­est­ly, and that’s an impor­tant point for folks to sit with,” says the Democ­ra­cy Defense Coalition’s Peo­ples. “There’s an impulse for some to say vot­ers decid­ed and democ­ra­cy won. But it’s a mis­take to think that this elec­tion cycle was a show of strength for democ­ra­cy. It shows how vul­ner­a­ble democ­ra­cy is.”

The mem­bers of the alliance to pro­tect the elec­tion have gone their sep­a­rate ways. The Democ­ra­cy Defense Coali­tion has been dis­band­ed, though the Fight Back Table lives on. Pro­tect Democ­ra­cy and the good-gov­ern­ment advo­cates have turned their atten­tion to press­ing reforms in Con­gress. Left-wing activists are pres­sur­ing the new­ly empow­ered Democ­rats to remem­ber the vot­ers who put them there, while civ­il rights groups are on guard against fur­ther attacks on vot­ing. Busi­ness lead­ers denounced the Jan. 6 attack, and some say they will no longer donate to law­mak­ers who refused to cer­ti­fy Biden’s vic­to­ry. Pod­horz­er and his allies are still hold­ing their Zoom strat­e­gy ses­sions, gaug­ing vot­ers’ views and devel­op­ing new mes­sages. And Trump is in Flori­da, fac­ing his sec­ond impeach­ment, deprived of the Twit­ter and Face­book accounts he used to push the nation to its break­ing point.

As I was report­ing this arti­cle in Novem­ber and Decem­ber, I heard dif­fer­ent claims about who should get the cred­it for thwart­ing Trump’s plot. Lib­er­als argued the role of bot­tom-up peo­ple pow­er shouldn’t be over­looked, par­tic­u­lar­ly the con­tri­bu­tions of peo­ple of col­or and local grass­roots activists. Oth­ers stressed the hero­ism of GOP offi­cials like Van Langevelde and Geor­gia sec­re­tary of state Brad Raf­fensperg­er, who stood up to Trump at con­sid­er­able cost. The truth is that nei­ther like­ly could have suc­ceed­ed with­out the oth­er. “It’s astound­ing how close we came, how frag­ile all this real­ly is,” says Tim­mer, the for­mer Michi­gan GOP exec­u­tive direc­tor. “It’s like when Wile E. Coy­ote runs off the cliff – if you don’t look down, you don’t fall. Our democ­ra­cy only sur­vives if we all believe and don’t look down.”

Democ­ra­cy won in the end. The will of the peo­ple pre­vailed. But it’s crazy, in ret­ro­spect, that this is what it took to put on an elec­tion in the Unit­ed States of America.


Cor­rec­tion append­ed, Feb. 5: The orig­i­nal ver­sion of this sto­ry mis­stat­ed the name of Norm Eisen’s orga­ni­za­tion. It is the Vot­er Pro­tec­tion Pro­gram, not the Vot­er Pro­tec­tion Project. The orig­i­nal ver­sion of this sto­ry also mis­stat­ed Jeff Timmer’s for­mer posi­tion with the Michi­gan Repub­li­can Par­ty. He was the exec­u­tive direc­tor, not the chairman.

Source: time​.com