ou’ve likely heard news reports about White supremacists planning to watch the polls in urban areas on Election Day. Their candidate of choice, Donald Trump, has made his own calls for “election observers” to ensure the victory is not “stolen” from him through voter fraud in Philadelphia and elsewhere — a dog whistle to his riled-up followers that inner-city Black people will “rig” the race in Clinton’s favor as they did for Obama in 2012. It’s all very ominous and suggests a widespread effort is in the works to intimidate black voters.
Yet, according to election protection experts who spoke with EBONY.com, you are more likely to encounter other barriers, like challenges to your voting eligibility or switched polling places and other voter suppression attempts, than outright intimidation by droves of Trump-loving shock troops.
The same weak ground game that has kept Trump’s campaign at a disadvantage to Clinton’s throughout the general election affects his ability to organize intimidating poll watchers now, explained David Thornburgh, president and CEO of the Philadelphia-based Committee of Seventy. “If there’s going to be any disruption, it’s going to be people freelancing, people just showing up at a polling place or several polling places. It’s not like they are pre-registering with anyone or going through official channels,” said Thornburgh, whose non-profit focuses on protecting the voting process locally.
As for alleged voter fraud in Philadelphia, “There are occasionally instances of petty fraud, but that’s far outweighed by the level of mistakes or incidents of human error in the system” that result in irregularities, he explained. Plus, President Obama beat Mitt Romney by nearly half a million votes there in 2012, a margin which can be explained by demographics. The scale of fraud Trump is alleging is nearly impossible to pull off, said Thornburgh.
Nevertheless, the atmosphere is tense and there has been an “uptick” in voter intimidation complaints to the Election Protection Hotline, according to Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. Her organization leads the hotline (866-OUR-VOTE) which is manned by legal experts from a coalition of over 100 other groups (including Thornburgh’s group). So far this election cycle the hotline has fielded over 50,000 calls nationwide.
“We’ve received some calls this election cycle about loud and aggressive people outside some early polling sites with bullhorns,” said Clarke. “We’ve received some reports about poll workers who give voters a hard time if they’re requesting language assistance, but in most instances we’ve been able to work with local officials to resolve the problems.”
Another Election Protection Coalition member, the Advancement Project, sent EBONY.com the following advice for people who experience voter intimidation:
- Document the conduct, as well as the date, time and location. This includes the city or town, as well as the polling location/precinct
- Go into the polling location and report the problem to the local election authority and/or the state board of elections
- Then report the problem to the Election Protection Hotline at 866-OUR-VOTE (1-888-VE-Y-VOTA en Español), and the coalition will elevate and work to resolve the issue.
Meanwhile, coalition members will be on the lookout for aggressive poll watchers or people who challenge the eligibility of voters. “In addition to the individual people who stand on the sides and try to intimidate people, there is a little more systematic [way of suppressing votes through] challenges to voter eligibility,” explained Judith Brown Dianis, who is the Advancement Project’s executive director. If you believe you are eligible to vote and someone challenges you at the polls, follow the above instructions.
Other tactics that have been used in the past to keep people from casting their votes at the polls, according to the Election Protection Coalition, include robocalls, flyers or social media posts with false or misleading voter information; and being threatened with arrest at the polls for unpaid parking tickets or child support. It’s important to know your rights, eligibility and what kind of ID (if your state requires one) you must bring to vote.
Vote.org will allow you to check if you are registered to vote, as well as where your polling place is and what’s on the ballot. The Election Protection web site has an interactive map with information about ID requirements, absentee and early voting, and other important information in each state. The U.S. Justice Department also has a hotline (603-230-2503) and form for election complaints.
Whatever you do, it’s important to show up to the polls and make sure your vote is counted. Despite reports of a dip in early voting turnout by African Americans compared with 2012 levels, there’s still time show up in full-force on Nov. 8 and possibly make the difference of who ends up in the White House.
“When we look at the changing demographics of America and the browning of America, there are people who are in power who are scared, and so they will go to whatever lengths they have to in order to ensure that we don’t get to participate. So, we’ve got to keep the foot on the pedal and keep moving the country forward,” said Dianis.