With Donald Trump’s polling numbers in a tailspin, he has doubled down in calling on Republican vigilantes to take matters into their own hands to thwart what many of them are primed to regard, without proof, as a rigged election. The Republican nominee’s rhetoric, inciting white rural and suburban voters who fear the voting clout of black urban Democrats, is a recipe for voter intimidation and even violence on Election Day. It also lays the groundwork for his followers to believe, if he loses,that his defeat was a historic swindle. Starting in August, and accelerating this month, Mr. Trump has stood before rallies attended overwhelmingly by his white backers and urged them to go to “certain areas” on Election Day. “Go and vote and then go check out areas because a lot of bad things happen,” he said in Pennsylvania, where lax state laws allow poll watchers to challenge voters as they arrive at precincts. “You know what I’m talking about,” he added. On Monday, he told his followers that they must watch “other communities.” “I hear these horror shows, and we have to make sure that this election is not stolen from us and is not taken away from us,” he said. “And everybody knows what I’m talking about.”
Yes, everyone knows what Mr. Trump is “talking about.” Mr. Trump’s odious gambit is a punch to the gut of American democracy that all but ensures charges of Election Day fraud, no matter how flimsy the evidence. It’s also in keeping with long-standing voter-suppression schemes in state legislatures, where white Republican lawmakers have used the concocted threat of voter fraud as an excuse to enact voter ID laws whose main purpose is to disqualify and discourage minority voters, who disproportionately lack the required documents.
This Republican project is racially intentional, as a recent federal court ruling in North Carolina said explicitly. It dovetails with other, similarly racist tactics in other states, such as the disenfranchisement of felons long after they have completed their sentences — a rule that has left 1 in 5 black adults ineligible to vote in Virginia.