October 28, 2020; Star Tribune

NPQ has written quite a bit over the last few months about the connection of the current administration to police unions. This relationship has become particularly noteworthy as the movement to defund the police took hold. Now, that relationship appears to be filtering down into Trump’s plans to call out a citizen’s army of poll watchers. As we all know, this has elicited concern that the partisan “watching” may cross over the line into voter intimidation (as it has before), leading to a barring of such activity that was only lifted in 2018.

One recent incident is particularly illustrative of the race politics behind at least some of the effort. In Minneapolis, Police Federation President Lt. Bob Kroll has sent an email to his membership aimed at recruiting twenty to thirty former officers to act as “eyes and ears” on November 3 at polling sites in that city’s so-called “problem areas.”

The union says it’s responding to a request made by William Willingham, who in his email signature claims to be a senior legal adviser and director of Election Day operations for the Trump campaign.

“Poll Challengers do not ‘stop’ people, per se, but act as our eyes and ears in the field and call our hotline to document fraud,” the email reads. “We don’t necessarily want our Poll Challengers to look intimidating,” and “they cannot carry a weapon in the polls due to state law,” but “we just want people who won’t be afraid in rough neighborhoods or intimidating situations.”

Writing for the Star Tribune, Libor Jany reminds readers that “Kroll has long aligned himself with Trump, joining the president onstage at a campaign rally last year and more recently echoing Trump’s rhetoric while blaming the city’s liberal establishment for escalating demonstrations, property damage and violence.”

Calling the language in the email “incredibly inappropriate,” Minneapolis City Council member Jeremiah Ellison said, “To the extent that Bob Kroll wants to participate in a voter intimidation campaign, the city will take that very seriously.”

There’s the clear dog whistle of “rough area,” and we need people who aren’t “easily intimidated,” and people who aren’t scared. There’s sort of innuendo and suggestive language, and again it avoids coming right out and saying what it seems to want to say.

The president’s campaign has declared its intention to raise a 50,000-person strong army of volunteer observers to monitor the voting in contentious states, including Minnesota. Some, however, are innovating on the idea of intimidation, like Bernie Pagel, the co-owner of a trailer park in Fort Morgan, Colorado, who is now in receipt of a cease and desist letter from Colorado’s attorney general’s office. The AG informed him that a notice that he sent to tenants warning them that their rent would likely double if Biden were to be elected but would be kept stable were Trump to win was, in effect, economic coercion and would not be tolerated.—Ruth McCambridge