It’s 10 a.m. but the room is already warm with body heat and the smell of coffee. Behind the locked glass doors of a downtown Washington office, in a conference room outfitted with 20 phone lines, computer workstations and posters that try to make inspirational art out of single words such as “Dedication,” volunteers are fielding phone call after phone call. This is one of the front lines in one of the most contentious presidential elections in memory. It is one outpost of the Election Protection Coalition voter hotline, a volunteer-staffed nonpartisan network of organizations devoted to protecting the right to vote. The advocates behind the operation say they are worried that more than any presidential election in the past 50 years, the 2016 contest carries a pronounced risk for impropriety and mischief. They, too, like Donald Trump, worry that the election could be rigged. But not in the way the Republican nominee has insisted it will be — by “inner city” residents resorting to fraud to help elect Hillary Clinton. They are more concerned about a combination of ordinary and extraordinary voter confusion; a lack of pre-election federal oversight and the specter of in-person voter intimidation by Trump supporters.
“What we face is a combination that is both dangerous and almost unprecedented,” said Thomas A. Saenz, president and general counsel of the Mexican American Legal Defense Fund (MALDEF), a coalition member organization. In response, the coalition has set up 23 call centers across the country for what it thinks will be a fractious and contentious Election Day resembling the ugly campaign that preceded it.
“We’ve spent hundreds of millions of dollars with the sole mission of getting more people to vote,” said Lindsay Walker, a spokeswoman with the Republican National Committee. “We’ve revived our voter registration program and put a priority on early and absentee voting, and have hired more people and trained more organizers to ensure we can do it than in any point in our party’s history. “
GOP officials in Michigan plan to dispatch more than 100 lawyers to polling sites around the state to identify and block what they see as the real possibility of “massive” voter fraud. In Pennsylvania, Republicans filed suit to challenge a state law that bars individuals from monitoring polling site activity in a county where the individual does not live.