At least some of Donald Trump’s supporters seem to be heeding his calls to monitor voting come election day in November, and the methods he and his supporters describe could easily cross into illegality.
Trump called for his fans to “go around and look and watch other polling places” at an Aug. 12 rally in Pennsylvania. At a separate affair, he asked his audience to watch “certain places” on election day, which many interpreted as a racist dogwhistle telling his supporters to gather at predominantly black polling sites.
“We have to call up law enforcement,” he said at a recent Pennsylvania rally. “And we have to have the sheriffs and the police chiefs and everybody watching.”
Trump, perhaps mindful of his dismal polling, is using talk of election fraud to undermine faith in American democracy. “It’s one big fix,” Trump said on Oct. 14 in North Carolina. “This whole election is being rigged.'”
The election is absolutely being rigged by the dishonest and distorted media pushing Crooked Hillary – but also at many polling places – SAD
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 16, 2016
Both parties have legitimate poll monitors — often volunteers who make sure voting goes smoothly at their respective polling stations.
“We think that’s all a good thing, but there’s a difference between poll monitors who are trying to make sure the process is going well to people who cross the line into intimidating or coercing voters,” Dale Ho, director of the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project, told Mashable.
A Trump supporter in Ohio recently told Boston Globe reporters that he was willing to cross that line.
“I’ll look for…well, it’s called racial profiling,” Steve Webb, an Ohio resident, told the paper. “Mexicans. Syrians. People who can’t speak American.”
He added that he would “go right up behind them. I’ll do everything legally. I want to see if they are accountable. I’m not going to do anything illegal. I’m going to make them a little bit nervous.”
Except targeting voters to make them “a little bit nervous” can easily be seen as a form of voter intimidation, which is illegal.
United States law says “no person, whether acting under color of law or otherwise, shall intimidate, threaten, coerce, or attempt to intimidate, threaten, or coerce any other person for the purpose of interfering with the right of such other person to vote or to vote as he may choose.”
Kristen Clarke, president of Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, told Mashable that Trump’s call for “untrained individuals and law enforcement to activate on election day is an invitation for great mischief.”
Both Clarke and Ho acknowledged it’s difficult to determine what kind of voter intimidation, if any, will play out on election day. But both of them also agreed that a major presidential candidate has never before made such a sustained effort to discredit the U.S. electoral system.
“It’s all deeply troubling,” Clarke said. “We want a democracy in which everyone is freely able to cast a ballot on election day. And these statements undermine the goal of having a smooth election.”