Voter Suppression Watch: Tracking Swing State Reports of Intimidation at the Polls
Update, 6:38pm ET:
The Trump campaign's effort to lay a legal foundation claiming voting was rigged in the biggest cities in the swing states of Nevada and Pennsylvania is being met with scorn by election law experts.
In Philadelphia, the head of the state's GOP was claiming that Republican poll watchers were being kept out of polling sites. Election law expert Rick Hasen, blogging for Slate.com, cautioned people about believing that report. He later blogged that "the shady James O’Keefe of Project Veritas just released a video showing him following a 'pastor’s bus' in Philadelphia supposedly taking people to the polls. It is legal to give people free transportation to vote."
In Nevada, the Trump campaign sued the county where Las Vegas is located because an early voting center in a supermarket stayed open late Monday to accomodate all the voters in line, many of whom were Latino. That happens to be the law in that state, Hasen noted, speculating that Trump's lawyers filed a flimsy claim to prevent Democrats from declaring victory on Tuesday night. But that's not all—a Nevada judge ridiculed Trump's lawyers for seeking the names of poll workers, saying she would not subject them to his trolls. (Watch here.)
"If nothing else, this [Nevada] lawsuit will give Trump fodder to claim he wasn’t a real loser because the election was 'rigged,'" Hasen concluded. "Rigged by many Hispanic voters, incensed with Trump’s hateful rhetoric, coming in droves to a supermarket to exercise their constitutional right to vote like other citizens. Something that should be celebrated is being attacked by Trump, which seems a fitting ending to this campaign."
Update, 4:17pm ET:
The NAACP reports that, early this morning, “the North Carolina State Board of Elections instructed the Durham County Board of Elections to use paper poll books instead of electronic poll books. This abrupt change led to some voters being turned away from certain precincts this morning and in some precincts throughout the day.”
According to the civil rights organization, the problem has since been rectified. “Our understanding is that all precincts now have all the supplies needed to function with paper poll books and we are calling on all Durham voters to persevere in voting,” the NAACP said in a press statement. In light of this issue, the organization is calling on voters to “persevere,” including by returning to cast ballots.
The Durham Board of Elections petitioned the State Board to keep Durham’s polls open an extra 90 minutes in light of the fact that voters faced difficulties earlier. According to the NAACP, without North Carolina’s voter suppression law, HB 589, "County Board would have been able to extend the hours to address this situation without approval of the State Board." The State Board has not yet responded to press queries about its planned course of action.
Update, 3:30pm ET:
Max Rosenthal and Russ Choma report for Mother Jones that a man in Lansing, Michigan, attempted to prevent two women wearing hijabs from casting a ballot. Voter Ron Fox, who says he witnessed the incident, described what happened to Mother Jones:
I observed a man just outside the door to the polling place. He pulled two women wearing hijabs out of line ahead of me. When I came level to him, he was examining their voter registration cards and appeared to be attempting to direct them to another polling place. He seemed polite but I did not like that he’d singled out those two women... When I finished voting, there were two polling officials that were asking him to leave. He was refusing. He then entered the polling place, presumably to attempt to obtain permission to remain.
Update, 2:15pm ET:
Voter turnout is high (with long lines in many swing states), election protection attorneys reported, citing a handful of disturbing incidents where self-identified Republicans tried to intimidate people but did not prevent them from voting.
"That’s our sense," said Edward Hailes, managing director and attorney at the Advancement Project, a voting rights law group and part of a national election protection coalition. "In part they [obstructionists] are being blocked from preventing people from voting, because there’s a strong cadre of people on the ground that are providing assistance, providing advice, and overcoming problems by talking directly with election officials."
"That does not stop the long lines in Ohio, Missouri, Virginia and Florida," he said. "Those are places where we are working, where we are monitoring it, just trying to make sure there are no systemic problems that stop people from trying to cast their ballots before they leave."
However, Hailes gave several examples of confirmed incidents where perceived Democratic voters and election protection officials were targeted by hecklers outside polling places.
"What has really caught our attention are attempts at intimidating voters and even the advocates that are there properly to assist and advise voters as they go into their polling place," he said. "In Missouri, we got complaints of aggressive police presence. We have been told about hecklers in places like Florida and North Carolina. We’re following up to get accurate information."
"We have, for example, been following up reports received out of Georgia, Macon-Bibb County in particular, where at one polling place we were told that there were trained election protection people in place… and they were challenged and intimidated by aggressive 'poll watchers' who later identified themselves as associated with the Republican Party," Hailes said. "We were told that they were bullying them, they were challenging their right to be there, and the bottom line is after saying this is a non-partisan, non-profit representative of a coalition that has traditionally been in place, they asked the polling place manager to come outside and confirm that these non-partisan people were in the right place. And the polling place manager in fact did that."
Hailes also pointed to Palm Beach in south Florida.
"In Florida, we’re hearing about the long lines. We are hearing about the hecklers at polling places," he said. "We’re trying to get more details on a report out of Palm Beach, where there was aggressive poll watcher activity trying to discourage people who they believed would vote for the Democratic nominee and it was a fight at one polling place. We were told that fight took place outside of the zone of protection. To me that’s very serious, that any person supporting one candidate would actually engage in a physical fight."
Jeralyn Cave, a spokeswoman for the Advancement Project, also cited problems in Virginia, where people who vote infrequently were given a provisonal ballot that would have to be verified, instead of a regular ballot. The voters knew their rights, she said, and worked with election protection lawyers to obtain regular ballots.
Update, 11:30am ET:
Scattered reports of voter intimidation in Florida are emerging.
According to the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, a group of individuals has assembled outside of the Hollywood Branch Library in Broward County, Florida, and has aggressively approached individuals, causing at least one woman to leave before casting a ballot. The organization does not know whether the group is still present at the polling place.
Meanwhile, an unauthorized individual was reportedly removed from the St. Paul AME Church, located in a majority-black area of Jacksonville.
Update, 10:45am ET:
Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the National Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, which operates the 866-OUR-VOTE hotline, said on a press call this morning that the organization has received a “substantial number” of calls from “minority voters” voicing complaints that they are facing barriers to casting ballots.
She reported that 43 percent of those calls regarded issues with polling sites not being fully functional, while 28 percent have concerned voter registration issues. The organization has received a “number of calls this morning about malfunctioning equipment,” she added.
“In Florida, we continue to receive complaints of voter intimidation,” she said. “In North Carolina, we have received reports of electronic machines down.”
Judith Browne Dianis, executive director of the Advancement Project, said on the call that the organization has received complaints in Miami-Dade County, Florida, that there is “a lack of language access for Spanish-speaking voters.”
Nicole Austin-Hillery, director and counsel for the Washington DC office of the Brennan Center, said the organization has received reports that voting machines in Durham, North Carolina, are down “altogether.”
Melanie Campbell, president and CEO of National Coalition for Black Civic Participation, reports, “We did hear that in Florida, people are riding around in pickup trucks with confederate flags flying,” but there is no violence at this point.
Clarke noted that law enforcement presence at polling stations “has been historically used as a tactic to chill minority participation,” and the organization plans to keep a close eye on police throughout the day. The Advancement Project received reports of police at an elementary school in St. Louis.
Update, 9:30am ET:
On Monday afternoon, Urban Outfitters tweeted an election reference guide filled with wrong information, including the false claim that a “voter’s registration card” is required for people across the United States to cast ballots. Richard Hayne, the CEO of the retail giant, has donated to Rick Santorum and other Republican candidates.
As of this morning, Urban Outfitters has reportedly corrected the misinformation.
Update, 8am ET:
Addressing a rally in Manheim, Pennsylvania in early October, Donald Trump used racially coded language to call on his supporters to organize vigilante “monitoring” groups apparently targeting black neighborhoods on election day.
“You’ve got to go out,” he said. “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, because I hear too many stories about Pennsylvania. Certain areas. I hear too many bad stories, and we can’t lose an election because of you know what I’m talking about.”
His repeated, unverified claims of large-scale “rigged” voting were not lost on racial justice advocates. White supremacist terrorist organizations like the Ku Klux Klan have historically martialed the tactic of physical intimidation, as well as real violence, to suppress black voters.
As recently as Monday, Trump supporter and conspiracy theorist Roger Stone called for vigilante groups to conduct “exit polls” in counties across Ohio, Arizona, Colorado, Texas, Florida and Pennsylvania. “As we gathered red-blooded Americans across the country to protect the voting process in their communities, the Clintons went to the court to try and stop us,” he said in a statement. Meanwhile, white nationalist organizations, including the KKK, claim they are planning to mobilize poll watchers across the country.
The Oath Keepers, comprised of former police and military service members who often bear arms at their public events, declared that “our significant capabilities in conducting covert operations, intelligence gathering, and investigation can and should be leveraged to counter actions of any political party or criminal gang that attempts to disenfranchise the citizens of our nation.”
Meanwhile, local lawmakers’ directives to station police at polling places in Springfield, Missouri, have also sparked concerns of suppression. “Placing police at poll sites can be inherently intimidating to voters, particularly in communities of color where such presence has historical ties to efforts to impede voter access to the polls,” Denise Lieberman, senior attorney at Advancement Project, wrote in a letter to the Greene County Clerk’s Office. “In some communities, having patrols at poll sites is far more likely to disrupt the voting process than facilitate it, and carries a likelihood of intimidating or impeding voters’ access.”
This is the first presidential election since the gutting of the Voting Rights Act, in a country where widespread voter disenfranchisement already exists, including denying formerly incarcerated people as well as inhabitants of the five modern-day U.S. colonies the right to vote. On Monday, the North Carolina GOP released a press statement openly boasting that state lawmakers’ efforts to restrict voting have reduced the number of African Americans casting early ballots.
AlterNet will be tracking reports of voter suppression throughout the day. See the Know Your Rights resource produced by the ACLU if you experience any intimidation.