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Trump’s volunteer army is already engaging in widespread voter intimidation across the US — and it’s only going to get worse

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Composite image of Boston ballot box arson suspect, images via the Boston Police Department.

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Terry H. Schwadron
Terry H. Schwadron

In Miami, an armed city police officer in full uniform now faces disciplinary action after wearing a Trump campaign mask while directing voters at the polls.

In Nevada City, CA, enthusiastic Trump supporters in cars  trucks held a rally around a ballot-drop-off site, making it difficult for voters to get through to leave their ballots.  A truck blaring loud music just beyond the 100-foot buffer zone at  that California site, prompting  a local official to ask the person to knock it off.

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In Philadelphia, the state attorney general has told the Trump campaign to stop videotaping voters dropping off completed mail ballots.

In Fort Morgan, CO, a trailer park owner warned residents that their rent could double if Joe Biden wins.

In the Baldwin Hills area of Los Angeles, a middle-class Black neighborhood, a ballot drop-off box was set afire, forcing state officials to retrieve ruined ballots and track down voters for replacements.

In Albuquerque, a convoy of pro-Trump trucks spent a couple of hours honking and yelling near a voting site forcing voters to wend their way through, said news station KRQE.

It’s the Trump volunteer citizen army at work. I had wondered what they were seeking to do, but it is the obvious. If you have trouble with your candidate being persuasive, start yelling and harassing people, as if they will effectively change – or stop – their votes.

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No, this is an exercise in self-adulation.

The Washington Post reports anecdotally that there are widespread, if intermittent, attempts to disrupt voting by the Trump volunteer armies of poll watchers.  No doubt, we should be aware that this trend will worsen towards Election Day.

So, there have been confrontations at polling sites between masked and unmasked voters, with apparent politics as evident as health concerns or uniform expressions of independence. In one Florida site, police had to separate a vocal mask-less group and order its members to stay away until they had face coverings, just to remind all that there are supposed to rules.

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If you don’t like hearing this, wait until adverse election results start pouring in.

Widespread, Anecdotal Reports

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Trump campaign officials are saying that so long as no one breaks any election laws, they see such activity as welcome.  Across the country, there are voter complaints about aggressive partisan behavior, including some exchanges within buffer zones around voting sites.

For me, these incidents stinks of intimidation – though not as overt as those letters going to voter homes this week threatening voters if they don’t vote for Trump, letters that the Director of National Intelligence indicated were the result of hacking by Iranians or Russians without any details.

The personal intimidation incidents come on top of the official version of voter suppression in which election officials in some states are being much more picky about tossing ballots without matching signatures than others. In North Carolina, a state polling even, ballots from Black voters are being eliminated at a higher clip than from whites.

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Yet, lines of voters continue to outpace voting in the last two elections, and while no one can say which way these people are voting, turnout seems to be the key winner of these elections.

There are scattered incidents about pulling down opponent signs, particularly those for Democrats, and warnings to individuals who try to politick inside the official polling buffer zones.

And there are plenty of reports of people blasting pro-Trump messages on phones and other devices within earshot of those lined up to vote outside the buffer zones, all legal but certainly annoying.

Trump himself, of course, has been repeating a message at his rallies for supporters and volunteers to “watch” polling sites, without really telling people what exactly they are supposed to be watching. The easy interpretation has been to spread Trump gospel at the polling sites and drop-off sites in an attempt to discourage opponent votes.

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According to Politico, tens of thousands of volunteers have signed up for the GOP polling watching effort to “monitor everything from voting machines to the processing of ballots to checking voter identification.”

Election Day Prospects

Officials in central Florida are training for possible disruptions, or even violence, on Election Day, reported the Orlando Sentinel. In North Carolina, Republican lawmakers are pushing back on a State Board of Elections memo that directs local officials not to station uniformed law enforcement officers at polling places, per The News & Observer.

The obvious question here is why we as a nation aren’t celebrating the widened participation of voters.

Our deep political divisions, those both real and those imagined, are grabbing democracy by the shoulders and shaking aggressively.  It seems not enough for parties to spend a billion dollars to argue their cases, even with demeaning and debasing (and often inaccurate) attacks on the other side. It seems not enough for endless political debates on issues and character.

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As Americans, too many of us just need to win, and we’re endangering the very enterprise which we argue deserves our patriotic enthusiasm.

This isn’t “poll-watching.” It is attempted intimidation and Trump and his volunteer army should knock it off.

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