Trump’s Calls for Voter Intimidation Are Already Being Heeded. Here’s How to Respond.

We could see a deluge of Trump-sponsored voter intimidation on Election Day. Protecting our democracy requires stopping it in its tracks.

Jeff Schuhrke

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With one week to go before Elec­tion Day, civ­il lib­er­ties groups and offi­cials in mul­ti­ple bat­tle­ground states are issu­ing stark warn­ings about the poten­tial for vot­er intim­i­da­tion at the polls — par­tic­u­lar­ly direct­ed against Black and Lati­no voters.

Through­out his reelec­tion cam­paign, Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump has repeat­ed­ly made base­less claims that the Democ­rats intend to steal” the elec­tion through wide­spread vot­er fraud. At the Sep­tem­ber 29 debate with Demo­c­ra­t­ic nom­i­nee Joe Biden, Trump urged his sup­port­ers to go into the polls and watch very care­ful­ly,” while also telling the Proud Boys — a white suprema­cist group that reg­u­lar­ly engages in vio­lence—to stand back and stand by.”

While cer­ti­fied poll watch­ers are allowed to observe vot­ing loca­tions to ensure their par­ty has a fair chance, any attempts to intim­i­date, threat­en or coerce vot­ers is a vio­la­tion of fed­er­al law.

The Repub­li­can Par­ty has a his­to­ry of inten­tion­al­ly blur­ring the line between legit­i­mate poll watch­ing and ille­gal vot­er intim­i­da­tion, which is why a 1982 con­sent decree pro­hib­it­ed the par­ty for decades from using poll mon­i­tors with­out first get­ting court approval. In 2017, a fed­er­al judge lift­ed those restric­tions, and now the Repub­li­cans plan to dis­patch an army of 50,000 poll watch­ers in 15 key states to chal­lenge bal­lots from vot­ers they deem sus­pi­cious.”

Mean­while, the FBI and law enforce­ment offi­cials in sev­er­al swing states are prepar­ing for the pos­si­bil­i­ty of polling loca­tions being over­run by armed, pro-Trump vig­i­lantes and self-styled mili­tias” — sim­i­lar to the domes­tic ter­ror­ist group that hatched a recent­ly foiled plot to kid­nap and mur­der Michi­gan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. 

Already, armed Trump sup­port­ers set up camp out­side a polling site in Flori­da, while a pri­vate secu­ri­ty com­pa­ny attempt­ed to recruit for­mer U.S. Spe­cial Forces per­son­nel to guard” vot­ing loca­tions in Min­neso­ta. In Philadel­phia last week, the Trump cam­paign admit­ted to secret­ly video­tap­ing voters at bal­lot drop-off loca­tions, some­thing Penn­syl­va­nia Attor­ney Gen­er­al Josh Shapiro says could amount to ille­gal vot­er intimidation.

To pre­vent such intim­i­da­tion, groups such as the Amer­i­can Civ­il Lib­er­ties Union (ACLU) and George­town University’s Insti­tute for Con­sti­tu­tion­al Advo­ca­cy and Pro­tec­tion (ICAP) are encour­ag­ing vot­ers to know their rights and be able to iden­ti­fy what con­sti­tutes ille­gal intim­i­da­tion at the polls. 

An ACLU fact sheet and guide to vot­ing rights explain that it is ille­gal for any­one to aggres­sive­ly inter­ro­gate you about your cit­i­zen­ship or crim­i­nal record at a polling loca­tion. It is also ille­gal for any­one to dis­play false or mis­lead­ing signs about so-called vot­er fraud,” to false­ly rep­re­sent one­self as an elec­tion offi­cial, or to spread mis­in­for­ma­tion about vot­er require­ments (like telling vot­ers they are required to speak Eng­lish or pass a test in order cast a bal­lot — which is not true in any state).

Though cer­ti­fied poll watch­ers are usu­al­ly allowed inside polling sites, they are not allowed to fol­low you into a vot­ing booth or to a vot­ing machine. If your vot­ing qual­i­fi­ca­tions are chal­lenged by a legit­i­mate poll watch­er, you can still cast a reg­u­lar bal­lot after giv­ing a state­ment swear­ing to your qual­i­fi­ca­tions. If you are not found on the list of reg­is­tered vot­ers, you still have the right to cast a pro­vi­sion­al bal­lot — and many states allow same-day vot­er registration.

The ICAP has put togeth­er fact sheets for all 50 states explain­ing how to iden­ti­fy ille­gal mili­tias” at polling loca­tions. Based on Supreme Court rul­ings in 1886 and 2008, the Sec­ond Amend­ment does not pro­tect unau­tho­rized para­mil­i­tary groups. In every state, the only law­ful mili­tia is the state mili­tia. Fed­er­al law pro­hibits the pres­ence of the mil­i­tary or armed fed­er­al offi­cers at vot­ing loca­tions, except for the spe­cif­ic pur­pose of repelling armed ene­mies of the Unit­ed States.” 

In Ohio, the League of Women Vot­ers is coor­di­nat­ing peace­keep­er teams” of cler­gy and social work­ers to deesca­late any ten­sions that arise at vot­ing sites. In Philadel­phia, Dis­trict Attor­ney Lar­ry Kras­ner is strength­en­ing his office’s elec­tion task force to try to stop attempt­ed Elec­tion Day intim­i­da­tion in its tracks.

Vot­ers in any state who encounter harass­ment, intim­i­da­tion, or coer­cion at the polls can report it to the elec­tion judges on site and to local elec­tion offi­cials, and call the nation­al Elec­tion Pro­tec­tion Hot­line at 866-OUR-VOTE or 888-VE-Y-VOTA (Span­ish).

As a 501©3 non­prof­it pub­li­ca­tion, In These Times does not oppose or endorse can­di­dates for polit­i­cal office.

Jeff Schuhrke has been a Work­ing In These Times con­trib­u­tor since 2013. He has a Ph.D. in His­to­ry from the Uni­ver­si­ty of Illi­nois at Chica­go and a Master’s in Labor Stud­ies from UMass Amherst. Fol­low him on Twit­ter: @JeffSchuhrke

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