Following the first presidential debate last month when President Donald Trump encouraged his supporters to engage in voter intimidation, voting rights advocates and election officials are cautioning those who go to the polls to watch out for people trying to interfere with their right to vote.
Specifically, Trump told his supporters at the debate to “go into the polls and watch very carefully,” in fear that the Democrats will “steal” the election. And before the debate, his son, Donald Jr., asked in a campaign video for supporters to join the “Army for Trump’s election security operation.”
Concerns over potential polling place violence and intimidation have contributed to the growing partisan divides and fears of possible unlawful militias intimidating voters at the polls. Georgetown Law’s Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection created factsheets for all 50 states on unlawful militias near polling places.
Militias refer to residents who may be called forth by the government when there is a specific need; but private individuals have no legal authority to activate themselves for militia duty outside the authority of the federal or state government, according to the ICAP factsheets.
“Local officials, law enforcement, and voters need to know that groups of armed individuals have no legal authority under federal or state law to show up at voting locations claiming to protect or patrol the polls,” said Mary McCord, Legal Director of ICAP and a former Acting Assistant Attorney General for National Security at the Department of Justice.
Poll watchers, also known as poll monitors, can be present at the polls but the person must be trained and certified by a political party or candidate and are prohibited from interfering with voters directly.
Voter intimidation can be considered a violation of the federal law in some cases.
To report voter intimidation, voters are encouraged to notify local and state officials or call the Election Protection Hotline 1-866-687-8683.