Election 2020

Dems Senators to Lynch: Deploy More Poll Watchers Due to 'Outrageous' Voter Intimidation Threats

Casino workers vote at an early voting site in Las Vegas on Oct. 26, 2016. (AP Photo/John Locher)

The top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee and the likely next leader of Senate Democrats have asked Attorney General Loretta Lynch to deploy even more election observers to the polls next week due to “outrageous” voter intimidation threats.

In the Friday letter to Lynch and Vanita Gupta, who heads the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, Sens. Pat Leahy (D-Vt.) and Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said they’re concerned that in the first presidential election since the Supreme Court’s 2013 ruling striking down a section of the Voting Rights Act the DOJ plans to send fewer observers out into the field.

“In light of the current political environment, the Department should be empowered to train and deploy more election observers, not fewer,” they wrote. “Without factual basis, some individuals have falsely claimed that the upcoming election could be ‘stolen’ through widespread voter fraud. These false claims have led to citizens who lack formal training stating that they intend to gather at polling locations to watch over voters in ‘other communities.’ Some have suggested that they will engage in racial profiling and intend to ‘go right up behind’ voters to make them feel ‘a little bit nervous.'”

The senators were referring to a Boston Globe story earlier this month in which an Ohio Trump supporter said he was going to watch polls for “Mexicans, Syrians, people who can’t speak American.”

“I’m going to 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,” said Steve Webb, a 61-year-old carpenter from Fairfield, Ohio, who said he was answering Donald Trump’s call to “watch your polling booths” and observe “other” communities to ensure that things are “on the up and up.”

Leahy and Schumer did not mention Trump by name in their letter, but stressed that “this type of voter intimidation is unacceptable, outrageous, and illegal” and cited federal law that bans conduct that “intimidates, threatens, coerces, or attempts 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.”

“While we understand that the Department may feel constrained by the Shelby County decision with respect to observers, we urge the Department to send monitors to as many polling places as possible, particularly in those locations where voters have historically experienced discrimination or intimidation,” Leahy and Schumer urged.

“All Americans – regardless of party affiliation – deserve free and fair election. No eligible voter should be intimidated, harassed, or otherwise prevented from exercising their right to vote and to participate in the democratic process. We are a better country when more, not fewer, Americans are engaged in our democratic process.”

They added that the DOJ should “take every step necessary to ensure that voter intimidation and voter discrimination are not occurring at the polls,” and “anyone who engages in illegal acts of voter intimidation or discrimination should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”

The FBI will have special agents available in each office around country to field allegations of fraud and other election abuses on Nov. 8.

Additionally, complaints can be made directly to the Civil Rights Division’s Voting Section in Washington at 1-800-253-3931 or through this online complaint form.