In 1981, during a New Jersey gubernatorial election, the Republican National Committee launched a “Ballot Security Task Force” that sent sample ballots to voters in predominantly African-American and Hispanic precincts. When 45,000 letters were returned as undeliverable, the RNC tried to remove the voters from the rolls and hired off-duty cops to patrol polling sites in black and Hispanic neighborhoods of Newark and Trenton. Police carried firearms at polling places and wore armbands reading “National Ballot Security Task Force,” while the RNC posted large signs saying, “this area is being patrolled by the national ballot security task force. it is a crime to falsify a ballot or to violate election laws”. After the election, the Democratic National Committee won a court settlement ordering the RNC to “refrain from undertaking any ballot security activities.” Now Donald Trump may be violating the consent decree against the GOP by asking his supporters to become a “Trump Election Observer” to “Stop Crooked Hillary From Rigging This Election.” Trump unveiled the page on his website the same day he campaigned in Pennsylvania, where he claimed, “The only way we can lose, in my opinion—and I really mean this, Pennsylvania—is if cheating goes on…. And we have to call up law enforcement. And we have to have the sheriffs and the police chiefs and everybody watching…. The only way they can beat it in my opinion—and I mean this 100 percent—if in certain sections of the state they cheat, OK? So I hope you people can sort of not just vote on the 8th, go around and look and watch other polling places and make sure that it’s 100 percent fine, because without voter identification—which is shocking, shocking that you don’t have it.”
Let’s leave aside the fact there’s no widespread voter fraud in Pennsylvania or elsewhere and that Trump is losing Pennsylvania by nine points in the Real Clear Politics average. His election observer program mirrors the type of voter intimidation the courts have blocked the RNC from doing. And his call for law-enforcement officers to monitor the polls expressly violates Pennsylvania law. “No police officer in commission, whether in uniform or in citizen’s clothes, shall be within one hundred feet of a polling place during the conduct of any primary or election, unless in the exercise of his privilege of voting, or for the purpose of serving warrants, or unless called upon to preserve the peace,” according to Pennsylvania Title 25, Section 3047. “In no event may any police officer unlawfully use or practice any intimidation, threats, force or violence nor, in any manner, unduly influence or overawe any elector or prevent him from voting or restrain his freedom of choice.”
I predicted Trump would resort to these tactics, writing in The Nation in May: “Voter Suppression Is the Only Way Trump Can Win.” His terrible numbers among nonwhite voters have only dropped further since then—he’s winning zero percent of black votes in crucial swing states like Ohio and Pennsylvania—and now that Trump is sinking in the polls, his talk of “rigged” elections is growing more desperate.
Trump’s support in the primary directly correlated with racial resentment toward African Americans, Hispanics, and Muslims, which is why it’s not a stretch to imagine Trump’s election observers’ racially profiling and intimidating minority voters at the polls. His widely debunked claim that “people may vote 10 times” is his campaign’s latest racist dog whistle, on par with calling Mexicans “rapists,” proposing banning Muslim immigration to the United States, or vowing to deport 11 million undocumented immigrants.