A small group gathered at the Brooklyn Park Water Treatment plant last week to do the painstaking work of preparing for a statewide election.

Local officials fed paper ballots into machines, marking some incorrectly to make sure the equipment caught the errors. Workers carefully checked the results against a spreadsheet. These accuracy tests, which happen across the state before any election, are open to the public but usually sparsely attended.

"It can be a little boring," admitted Ginny Gelms, the elections director for Hennepin County. "Sometimes people show up and they're like, 'OK, I've seen enough.'"

But election officials in Minnesota and across the country expect the finer points of voting systems to get more scrutiny than usual in Tuesday's midterm, the first contest since Donald Trump and his allies activated a national network of activists motivated by false claims of widespread voter fraud. Republicans have recruited potentially thousands of poll challengers and first-time election judges in Minnesota this cycle and are offering their own training on how to monitor voting and lodge complaints.

Minnesota election officials — who rely on volunteers every cycle — hope the state's unambiguous laws dictating who can do what at polling locations mean things will go smoothly on Election Day.

"The risks that we've all been hearing about nationally are risks in Minnesota too, there's no question about that," said Secretary of State Steve Simon, a Democrat running for re-election. "I would say the risk is lower in Minnesota for a number of reasons, including that our laws are crystal clear as to roles and responsibilities and restrictions in the polling place."

In Minnesota, only certain people are allowed inside a polling place during voting hours, including voters and authorized poll workers. Campaigning around polling places is prohibited, and no gatherings are allowed within 100 feet of the building.

State political parties always have some role in recruiting election judges and poll challengers to help with the process. Under law, each major party is allowed only one challenger per precinct who can contest voters' eligibility, as long as the challenger has personal knowledge that someone is ineligible to vote. They can't speak to or approach voters.

But since 2020, national Republican leaders have intensified their efforts in many states to get more conservatives to participate. The Republican National Committee has hired a staff person in Minnesota to work on training and recruitment. They're working with the state GOP, which is actively recruiting "election judges, poll watchers and poll challengers throughout the state," said spokesman Nick Majerus.

A network of smaller election groups has sprung up across the state, some of them offshoots of the Tea Party Patriots. At a Tea Party Patriots meeting in Champlin in early October, Marty Probst, the husband of GOP secretary of state candidate Kim Crockett, asked the group if they had friends in law enforcement to be "part of the SWAT team" on Election Day. Law enforcement are not allowed at polling places unless as voters or in responding to an incident.

Republican strategist Jonathan Aanestad founded nonprofit Minnesota Election Integrity Solutions early last year as a statewide effort to recruit election judges. Since then, he said interest swelled from a few thousand election judges two years ago to between 8,000 and 10,000 individuals this year.

He's not sure of the total number who ultimately signed up, but he said the goal is to have eyes on thousands of polling locations across Minnesota.

His nonprofit offers "what to watch for" training to election judges beyond official state procedures, asking them to document things such as the names of poll workers at their location, Wi-Fi connections in the area and how many people use same-day voter registration. Aanestad said they instruct judges to take pictures of voting equipment and receipts after the polls close.

"We are hoping things go well next Tuesday, but we are ready if there are concerns to investigate," he said, adding that his group doesn't condone disruptions.

Election judges have tended to be retirees who have time on their hands and are deeply involved in their communities. They swear an oath to prevent fraud and do their duties impartially. Some worry the new group of judges could have a more partisan bent.

"That group still exists, but we're getting a new group of people who are learning about elections in nontraditional ways," said Judd Choate, elections director in Colorado who teaches an elections administration certificate program at the University of Minnesota's Humphrey School. "They are learning about elections in the corners of the internet."

DFL Party Chairman Ken Martin said Democrats have tended to volunteer at higher numbers than Republicans to be election judges. This year, he estimates Republicans outpaced DFLers in recruitment by a 4-1 margin.

On its face, more election judges from one party is not a problem, but he's worried about the extra training they're receiving from outside groups. The DFL doesn't contact election judges they've recruited after they've officially signed up with the state, Martin said.

"You're supposed to have a balance, but what we've seen is a hyperpartisanship that's been injected into this fueled by the big lie," said Martin. "You're not supposed to be a partisan actor as you're sitting there helping to administer the election, and that's the piece that's more concerning to me."

Many elections officials say they have enough people to staff the polls and they're not hearing major concerns about disruptions on Election Day, but they've done their own preparations to be ready for any scenario.

Simon said they've worked with counties to upgrade physical security of polling places. They've let local officials know about a little-known provision in law that allows them to have a sergeant-at-arms in a polling place — an officer typically appointed by a government body to keep order in meetings. They're encouraging counties to have a point of contact with local law enforcement.

Last week, city clerks across Hennepin County were invited to a training with federal law enforcement on how to de-escalate a situation where voters might be upset. "We are keeping our ear to the ground about anything that might be going on that could disrupt the election process," said Gelms, the Hennepin County elections manager.

In Sherburne County — which has been targeted for months by a group pushing the county to hand count votes — officials have added a voter FAQ on their website to try and dispel misinformation about voting.

"We want to give them the confidence too that we have fair, accurate and honest elections," said Diane Arnold, the Sherburne County auditor and treasurer. "There is a lot of false information. We want to make sure we're telling how it is."

The scrutiny won't stop after election night. Aanestad said he anticipates some litigation over election results, and more candidates who are prepared to pay for recounts that fall outside the margin automatically triggering a recount in state law.

State election officials expect even more intensity surrounding the election in two years.

"There's no question this election, in many ways, is a dress rehearsal for the 2024 presidential election," said Simon. "People are employing strategies now that they will want to adjust or fine tune for 2024."