In a not-so-veiled call to intimidate minority voters, Trump on Friday told supporters they must become “observers” in “certain areas” and watch for “other people” who show up to the polls on Election Day.
Trump has already said that if he loses the election it will be because it is “rigged”for Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton. But during two separate rallies in Pennsylvania on Friday Trump was more specific, saying the only way he will lose the state is if cheating is involved and calling for what can be described as vigilante observers to ensure that does not happen.
“Maybeyou should go down and volunteer or do something,” Trump told the audience in Altoona after saying he had “heard some stories about certain parts of the state, and we have to be very careful.”
“We’re going to watch Pennsylvania,” he said. “Go down to certain areas and watch and study and make sure other people don’t come in and vote five times. If you do that, we’re not going to lose. The only way we can lose, in my opinion I really mean this, Pennsylvania is if cheating goes on.
Those “certain areas” are almost exclusively Black neighborhoods where polls show Trump has zero support and where Mitt Romney and John McCain in 2012 and 2008, respectively, also earned near-zero votes.
Based on Trump’s previous comments and the loyalty shown by his supporters, his most recent remarks almost assure the prospect of confrontations with minority voters on Election Day.
Trump supporters emulate the candidate and do what he says. His rhetoric against Mexicans and Muslims throughout his campaign has emboldened his supporters to harass, intimidate and physically attack Mexicans and Muslims, and racially charged violence between Trump supporters and protesters at his rallies has become a regular occurrence. Moreover, as recently as Friday, when Trump called journalists the “lowest form of life the lowest form of humanity,” reporters covering the rally were accosted by Trump supporters, called “traitors” and told to leave the country.
During the Pennsylvania rallies Trump insisted that cheating will take place due to the lack of voter ID laws which courts have repeatedly ruled are meant to disenfranchise minority voters.
“We have to call up law enforcement, and we have to have the sheriffs and the police chiefs and everybody watching,” he said. “I hope you people can sort of not just vote on the eighth, go around and look and watch other polling places and make sure that it’s 100 percent fine, because without voter identification which is shocking, shocking that you don’t have it.”
The issue of voter fraud is extremely rare and has been debunked by various independent studies. According to the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University’s School of Law, a nonpartisan law and policy institute, the “ongoing examination of voter fraud claims reveal that voter fraud is very rare, voter impersonation is nearly non-existent, and much of the problems associated with alleged fraud in elections relates to unintentional mistakes by voters or election administrators.”
Meanwhile, a comprehensive analysis fromThe Washington Postfound 31 credible instances of voter fraud between 2000 and 2014 out of 1 billion ballots cast, and anArizona State Universitystudy showed similar results.
“When courts across the country step up to protect voting rights, that hardly amounts to ‘rigging’ an election,” saidBrennanCenter President Michael Waldman. “The notion of massive fraud is a pernicious myth. It’s irresponsible to peddle it if the goal is to pre-undermine an election outcome. Mark Twain said, ‘A lie can travel half way around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes.’ And that was before Twitter.”
In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, Wendy Weiser, director of the Brennan Center’s Democracy Program, said Trump’s “rhetoric can be used to keep lots of legitimate people from voting. This has happened a lot through our history, and it’s been happening a lot lately.”
Trump supporters who sign up to become “election observers” are told, “We are going to do everything we are legally allowed to do to stop crooked Hillary from rigging this election.”
However, those legal options can be tricky, especially for the Republican Party, which is already prohibited by law from having poll watchers influence voters at election sites following claims of voter intimidation in minority areas in the 1970s and early 1980s.
While states have actual laws that prevent voter intimidation, a decree issued in 1982 prevents the Republican Party from engaging in voter fraud prevention efforts without prior court consent, specifically “ballot integrity, ballot security or other efforts to prevent or remedy vote fraud,” especially in areas where racial or ethnic makeup could be considered a reason for the activities, according to a ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit.