Especially in this election, we need more impartial poll workers – not partisan poll watchers, and certainly not poll stalkers working for Donald Trump.
In his latest assault on our democracy, Trump is recruiting his own election “observers” and telling his supporters that a rigged election by a corrupt political and media establishment is the only way he can lose.
Republican legislators and governors have passed stricter election laws, including voter ID requirements. And because the U.S. Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act in 2013, the Justice Department is allowed to send observers only to parts of five states under court order, compared to more than 780 personnel to 23 states it dispatched in 2012 to monitor any possible civil rights violations.
Taken together, these developments are a recipe for ugliness at precincts on Nov. 8, especially in the battleground states of Florida, North Carolina, Ohio and Pennsylvania, where Trump told his legions last week: “We don’t want this election stolen from us.”
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Even more shamefully, Trump is riling up supporters in mostly white cities to watch out for voter fraud in “other” communities, an unmistakable reference to minority areas. “Go to your place and vote, and then go pick some other place, and go sit there with your friends and make sure it’s on the up-and-up,” he said Sept. 30 in Michigan.
Experts say voting fraud at polling places is virtually nonexistent; the Brennan Center for Justice says the bigger threat comes from “ballot security” operations that challenge and intimidate legitimate voters, often African-Americans.
Thankfully, confrontations seem less likely in solidly Democratic California, where the presidential race will be less tense and where more than 60 percent of voters now use mail ballots.
Still, to be safe, it couldn’t hurt to have a full contingent of calm, competent and nonpartisan poll workers on hand.
Dean Logan, the registrar in Los Angeles County and president of the California Association of Clerks and Election Officials, says that according to reports he’s getting from across the state, poll worker recruitment is going well, including more interest among students. But counties still need multilingual workers.
A spokesman for Secretary of State Alex Padilla, California’s chief elections officer, said any observers must not interfere with poll workers or harass voters, and his office has sent advisories to county officials reminding them of those rules. Logan says that many counties are training poll workers to handle any observers who show up, and that disruption of the voting process and voter intimidation are not acceptable.
In a joint statement Monday, top House Democrat Nancy Pelosi of San Francisco and top Senate Democrat Harry Reid of Nevada called on all leaders to affirm the fairness of our elections. While there are always long lines and broken voting machines, there are also election officials of both parties and recounts, they said. “This issue is bigger than any of us and bigger than this election,” the statement said. “This is about each of us doing our part to ensure the continued functioning of our democracy.”
Though Trump grudgingly said at the first debate that he would accept the will of the voters, he continues to suggest the exact opposite on the campaign trail. To distract from daily allegations that he groped women, he is intensifying his vitriol, claiming that the accusers are part of a global conspiracy, in cahoots with Hillary Clinton.
Clinton’s campaign is predicting a record turnout because voters will see through Trump’s “shameful attempts” to undermine the election.
President Barack Obama sought Friday to dismiss Trump’s talk of a rigged election and a grand conspiracy. Some Republican election officials, who are in charge of the vote count in some key states, also are pushing back. Paul Ryan, the Republican House speaker, and Gov. Mike Pence, the vice presidential nominee, are dialing back Trump’s claims and trying to bring us back from the brink.
But it won’t be enough to calm Trump’s army until the candidate, himself, stops the crazy talk. And there’s no sign of that. He keeps stoking the fire in a daily barrage of tweets, including one Monday: “Of course there is large scale voter fraud happening on and before Election Day. Why do Republican leaders deny what is going on? So naive!”
Of all the horrendous things that Trump has said and done in this unprecedented campaign, this is the most dangerous to the republic. Close confidant Roger Stone has been even more reckless, warning that if there’s widespread voter fraud, there will be a constitutional crisis, mass civil disobedience, even a “bloodbath” that somehow would be nonviolent.
No matter who you support, that’s the last thing any of us should want.
The writer is a columnist for the Sacramento Bee.