Donald Trump’s repeated calls for supporters to gather friends and family to monitor polling places for cases of voter fraud raises a thorny question: When, exactly, do “ballot security” measures cross the line into illegal acts of voter intimidation? “You’ve got to go out. You’ve got to go out. And you’ve got to get your friends. And you’ve got to get everyone you know. And you got to watch your polling booths,” the Republican presidential nominee said last Saturday at a campaign rally in Manheim, Pennsylvania. He went on, “I hear too many bad stories, and we can’t lose an election because of you know what I’m talking about.” From a legal perspective, this kind of talk occupies an uncomfortable gray area. “There is a lot activity that is not clearly illegal, but could still be perceived as intimidation,” Rick Hasen, an election law expert at the University of California-Irvine School of Law, told TIME. “The question is where you draw that line.”
Private citizens are encouraged to volunteer to become election monitors, he said. But if you have a group of people gathering in an organized way outside a polling place and they are making voters feel uncomfortable, that can quickly cross into illegal territory.
Take, for example, reports that a former Trump advisor, Roger Stone, plans to organize 1,300 volunteers from Citizens for Trump to set up a series of ad hoc “exit polling stations” on Election Day. Stone’s effort, according to the Guardian, will focus on 600 precincts in nine cities—Cleveland, Detroit, Philadelphia, Las Vegas, Milwaukee, Fort Lauderdale, Charlotte, Richmond and Fayetteville—all of which have large minority populations, tend to vote Democratic, and are in swing states.
Whether such activity slips into illegal voter intimidation could depend in part on how volunteers behave at those informal polling stations, Hasan said. While each state has its own laws on voter intimidation, four federal civil and criminal statutes forbid a fairly broad range of activities. According to the Brennan Center for Justice, poll watchers are prohibited by federal statute from “directly confronting” voters, using “insulting, offensive” language, or even “raising voices” against voters.
Full Article: Why Donald Trump’s ‘Ballot Watchers’ Might Be Illegal | TIME.