Potential for Voter Intimidation Attempts Looms as Election Draws Nearer

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Referendum / Kevin Doncaster

November 2, 2016; CNN Politics

Even as Donald Trump soapboxes about the potential for a “rigged election,” Mark Potok of the Southern Poverty Law Center warns that “the possibility of violence on or around Election Day is very real.”

Potok is responding here to promises from white nationalist groups to bring a show of strength to polls, where a large minority population will be voting.

“Many polling locations are in schools, and black schools are so disorderly that pretty much any official-looking white person with a clipboard can gain access to them ahead of time and set up a hidden camera. You don’t really ever even have to speak with an adult. Simply walk in like you belong there and no one even asks you why you are there.”—From alt-right website TheRightStuff.Biz.

Though others call these groups “serial exaggerators,” that doesn’t mean they won’t be able to mobilize the odd “loner” whipped into a frenzy by the drone of hate speech. As Potok points out, “Donald Trump has been telling his supporters for weeks and weeks and weeks now that they are about to have the election stolen from them by evil forces on behalf of the elites.”

Meanwhile, in more formal settings, a federal judge has scheduled a hearing for Friday in New Jersey to examine the RNC’s activities in promoting and organizing poll watching. Such activity may violate a consent decree put into effect in the 1980s after the RNC was charged with intimidating voters in predominately African-American precincts in New Jersey. (Reportedly, the RNC hired off-duty police officers to stand at polling places with “National Ballot Security Task Force” armbands, and the consent decree was part of the settlement.)

“The RNC has coordinated with the Trump campaign in its unlawful ‘ballot security’ efforts,” DNC lawyer Angelo J. Genova argued in the lawsuit. “Trump’s running mate, Gov. Mike Pence has publicly confirmed that both the RNC and the Trump campaign are working directly with state Republican parties on so-called ‘ballot security measures.’”

Democratic lawyers have also filed lawsuits charging voter intimidation in violation of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and the Ku Klux Klan Act of 1871 in Nevada, Ohio, Arizona, and Pennsylvania. The court documents state, “Trump has made an escalating series of statements, often racially tinged, suggesting that his supporters should go to particular precincts on Election Day and intimidate voters.”

“This planned course of intimidation,” they argued, “violates the Voting Rights Act.”

Richard Hasen, who runs the Election Law Blog, doubts that any court will issue a vague order to stop “voter intimidation,” as requested. “But the suits will first bring publicity to the activities, and second get these parties on record stating that they do not plan on engaging in voter intimidation, which itself could be useful in the event of problems on Election Day,” he wrote.

Potok suggests that the more open the far right is about its voter suppression tactics, the more resistance will be built. “If on the morning of Election Day it turns out that we have white supremacists standing around looking threatening at polling places, I think it would arouse anger,” he said. “People would vote just to prove they’re not being intimidated by these radical racists.”—Ruth McCambridge

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