Taking his advice to heed, Donald Trump’s supporters are pledging to go to polling places to intimidate voters of color who they suspect of voter fraud (which does not exist).
“Trump said to watch you [sic] precincts. I’m going to go, for sure,” Steve Webb, a carpenter from Ohio, told the Boston Globe at a recent rally. “I’ll look for . . . well, it’s called racial profiling. 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.”
Trump has been talking about the election being “rigged” for months now, but with the election less than a month away, his supporters’ rhetoric has ramped up—which is something, considering that their previous rhetoric was mostly just calls for Hillary Clinton to be jailed for no particular reason. “We’re going to have a lot of election fraud,” Jeannine Bell Smith, a 65-year-old teacher told the Globe. “They are having illegals vote. In some states, you don’t need voter registration to vote.… We can’t have that lying bitch in the White House.” Already, armed Trump supporters are standing outside Democratic campaign offices in Virginia.
The mechanism for how Trump wants his supporters to “watch their precincts” is via poll watchers, who are typically appointed by political parties and candidates to observe voting procedures and report violations to authorities. Some states, as the New York Times‘ editorial board pointed out, allow poll watchers to challenge the eligibility of voters at the polling place, but that “these actions are often discriminatory and are nearly always disruptive to the voting process,” which is exactly what Trump wants.
The only specific place Trump has mentioned as being subject to possible voter fraud is “some areas” in Pennsylvania, a barely-coded dog whistle referring to a conservative meme from the 2008 and 2012 elections about members of the New Black Panther Party standing outside polling places in Philadelphia with billy clubs. It’s difficult to tell the difference between what the NBPP members, who were arrested, were doing and what Trump wants his supporters to do. In any case, Trump’s poll watching gambit might work in Pennsylvania, where provisions allowing poll watchers to question the eligibility of voters are often abused.