Trump says he'll send police to polling stations to monitor voter fraud

Sheriffs, law enforcement, and US attorneys may all be deployed to prevent fraudulent in-person voting – despite evidence that voter fraud is vanishingly rare

Andrew Naughtie
Friday 21 August 2020 13:51 BST
Trump says sheriffs will be watching polling stations in November

During a freewheeling phone-in interview with Fox News’s Sean Hannity on Thursday evening, Donald Trump declared that he will be unleashing the full force of law enforcement to monitor this November’s election.

He made the comments during a discussion about widespread postal voting, which he once again claimed will allow Democrats to steal the election.

“It’s a fraudulent election. Everybody knows it. You don’t even have to know politics to know it. Fifty-one million ballots are going to be indiscriminately be sent out to people who didn’t even ask for them! People are just going to say hey, I got a ballot, that’s great, let me vote. And it’s a terrible thing. They’re trying to steal the election.”

Mr Hannity agreed, then recited a long list of cases of voter fraud, most of which did not relate to postal ballots.

He then pivoted to in-person voting, asking whether Mr Trump would have “poll watchers” to check that voters have been identified and to ensure every ballot is “a real vote from a real American”.

“We’re gonna have everything,” Mr Trump answered. “We’re gonna have sheriffs, and we’re gonna have law enforcement, and we’re going to have US attorneys, and we’re going to have everybody, and attorney generals – but it’s very hard!”

He then returned to the theme of mail-in voting, repeating various dubious and false claims without being challenged.

While police are allowed inside polling stations in the US, the American Civil Liberties Union points out they are principally there to help prevent illegal voter intimidation – including aggressive questioning of voters about their citizenship or eligibility to vote. The police themselves are also subject to laws against such intimidation.

Nonetheless, as the Republican party recruits tens of thousands of volunteers to spot and dispute “suspicious ballots” in various key states, various advocacy groups have raised concerns that state-level party representatives are pushing to install police officers at polling stations in an intimidating manner.

The US has a long history of police interfering with both voter registration and in-person voting, particularly prior to the passage of the Voting Rights Act in 1965. While the legislation formally blocked many iterations of police interference, there have been multiple incidents since.

Most notorious was an incident in New Jersey’s 1981 gubernatorial election, for which the Republican Party recruited armed off-duty police officers to patrol polling stations in minority areas. The officers wore arm bands reading “Ballot Security Task Force” and harassed Black and Latino voters, threatening them with fines. One voter reported being physically pulled out of a polling station by one of the officers.

The Republican National Committee was sued over the incident, and in the end was served with a “consent decree” that prevented it from using the same tactics again. However, in 2018, a federal judge allowed the decree to expire – potentially allowing the party to deploy armed agents again in the name of “ballot security”.

Mr Trump and Mr Hannity’s exchange about electoral integrity, meanwhile, gave an indication that the threat of widespread voter fraud cited by Mr Trump and his allies is not well-founded.

Mr Hannity pointed to a report from the right-leaning Heritage Foundation think tank, which keeps a database of voter fraud incidents covering the last two decades. The host cited a total figure of 1,088, which in fact comes from a 2017 edition of the database; the think tank currently gives a tally of 1,296 ”proven instances of voter fraud”.

The total votes counted in the last presidential election alone came to 136,669,276, but the right-wing foundation nonetheless calls its average of fewer than 70 cases per year “stark evidence of a broken system in need of reform”.

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