President Trump’s statements have called into question the legitimacy of the 2020 elections.
In the first presidential debate, President Trump urged his supporters “to go into the polls and watch very carefully,” raising fears he was indirectly encouraging voter intimidation.
His son, Donald Jr., posted to social media a video repeating the claims of fraud tied to mail-in ballots, with the headline, “We need you to join ARMY FOR TRUMP’s election security.”
Donald J. Trump for President Inc. launched ArmyForTrump.com, a site using the language of “fight” and “enlist” in appealing for voters’ support and claiming in a video “the Democrats will be up to their old dirty tricks on election day to make sure President Trump doesn’t win.”
The president tweeted a link to the site on Oct. 5, urging followers to “volunteer to be a Trump Election Poll Watcher.”
Trump’s campaign voiced concerns, and has since filed a lawsuit, about a poll watcher not being allowed into a Philadelphia election office. The president claimed during the first presidential debate that a poll watcher was “thrown out” of the office.
An NBC affiliate in the city reported that because the election office is only for registering voters and not an official polling location, poll watchers would not be allowed inside. In addition, poll watchers must be officially credentialed, and this credentialing process had not yet taken place since this typically happens a few days before Election Day.
Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner told reporters his office will “make sure that there is no threatening presence at these polls” – a commitment echoed by Pennsylvania Secretary of the Commonwealth Kathy Boockvar.
A move this week by the Justice Department has raised additional concerns related to voter intimidation. The department reversed its longstanding guidance and practice by allowing more visible, intensive inquiries into claims of voter fraud during the weeks leading up to an election, according to a report in The New York Times.
That previous guidance stated, in part:
“In investigating an election fraud matter, federal law enforcement personnel should carefully evaluate whether an investigative step under consideration has the potential to affect the election itself. Starting a public criminal investigation of alleged election fraud before the election to which the allegations pertain has been concluded runs the obvious risk of chilling legitimate voting and campaign activities. It also runs the significant risk of interjecting the investigation itself as an issue, both in the campaign and in the adjudication of any ensuing election contest.”
Federal law makes it illegal for anyone to intimidate a person seeking to cast their ballot in an election.
Each state has a process by which poll watchers are designated, with specific requirements related to age, total number allowed and voter registration status varying by state.
NPR reported on Sept. 30 that Trump supporters gathered outside an early voting polling location in Fairfax County, Virginia, holding up signs and shouting, “Four more years.”
No law was likely violated, according to reports, as the group remained the required distance away from the facility, but those who went to vote reported feeling intimidated by their presence.
Reporting on the same incident, The New York Times said extra space in the facility was opened up so voters could wait inside away from the Trump supporters demonstrating outside.
Facebook announced this week that it was banning “militarized language” related to the election. It read, in part, “when we become aware of them, we will also remove calls for people to engage in poll watching when those calls use militarized language or suggest that the goal is to intimidate, exert control or display power over election officials or voters.”
The Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection (ICAP) at Georgetown University has created a PDF summarizing the legal statutes and linking to a state-by-state summary of voter intimidation laws.
It also created PDFs for each state related to unauthorized private militia groups, explaining what to do if such groups show up near polling places.
If you think you have seen or experienced voter intimidation, ICAP provided the following suggestions:
- If you fear imminent violence, call 9-1-1.
- Notify your local election official at your polling place.
- Document what you saw or experienced: what happened, where, when and whether any voters were deterred from voting.
- Call Election Protection at 866-OUR-VOTE.