Election 2020

Activists Warn of ‘Chilling Effect’ from Trump’s Call for Supporters to Watch the Polls

Fabiola Vejar waits to register people to vote in front of a Latino supermarket in Las Vegas on June 9, 2016. (AP Photo/John Locher)

The Election Protection coalition led by the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law is worried about the effects of Donald Trump’s call for his supporters to watch the polls on Election Day.

“I hope you people can sort of not just vote on the 8th [but] go around and look and watch other polling places and make sure that it’s 100 percent fine,” Trump said at a campaign event in Altoona, Pa., in August. “We’re going to watch Pennsylvania. Go down to certain areas and watch and study, make sure other people don’t come in and vote five times.”

Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, said Trump’s rhetoric could have a “chilling effect” on Nov. 8.

“We are deeply concerned about the call to activate untrained poll watchers to monitor for alleged fraud. We know that fraud is a nonexistent problem in our country — there is little to no evidence that vote fraud exists,” Clarke said in response to a question from PJM on a conference call with reporters.

“We are deeply concerned about the chilling effect that this call can have on the electorate and on minority voters in particular and we are also very concerned about the disruption that this call can have for poll workers who endeavor to conduct a smooth election in November. So we are deeply concerned and deem this to be a potential or a call that could lead to voter suppression activity at the polls in November. We are also very concerned about the U.S. Department of Justice’s decision to terminate a core component of its federal observer program,” she added.

Clarke said the federal observers were deployed in covered states under the Voting Rights Act including Texas, California, South Carolina, North Carolina, Alabama and Louisiana.

“The federal observer program provided an important safeguard. The Justice Department had the authority to deploy specially trained individuals who would be positioned inside polling places from the beginning of an election to the very end to monitor for suppression and to ensure poll workers treated all voters fairly and evenly,” she said. “Without the federal observer program in place we may see an uptick in voter suppression, but most importantly we are seeing voters in a more vulnerable position this election cycle.”

Clarke said the Election Protection program will act as a “safeguard” for voters in the absence of the federal observer program.

“Our legal volunteers will be deployed to select areas where we will be watching closely to ensure that all voters are able to successfully cast a ballot on Election Day,” she said.

It was recently reported that deceased individuals have been registered to vote in the battleground state of Virginia. Authorities are investigating the situation there.

According to a report last week, police in Indiana are investigating voter application fraud in several dozen counties.

Arturo Vargas, National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO) Educational Fund executive director, said his organization will be “working tirelessly on the ground” to make sure Latinos can report any problems that occur at polling places. Voters can call various hotlines to report issues before and on Election Day such as 866-OUR-VOTE, which is administered by the Lawyers’ Committee, and 888-VE-Y-VOTA, which is administered by the NALEO Educational Fund.

Vargas is particularly concerned about the ability for Latinos to vote in Texas and the battleground state of North Carolina. In the 2012 election, he said, 771,000 Latinos in Texas and another 18,000 in North Carolina lacked the appropriate identification required under the law. Despite the appeals court ruling the voter ID laws in those states invalid, Vargas said Latinos are “still at risk.”

“The decisions are not final. We know North Carolina and Texas are pursuing these cases and even where courts have ordered changes to the voter ID procedures we are concerned that the quality of assistance to Latino voters with navigating the new and changing rules are insufficient. We are concerned about the lack of adequate outreach to voters, which is why our election protection efforts this year are so critical,” he said.

Vargas said 20,000 Latino voters called the voter protection hotline on National Voter Registration Day seeking information on how to register to vote.

“Our hotline operation will continue all year long and up until Election Day,” he said.