Policy Summary: On August 20, 2020 President Donald J. Trump said in an interview that he would send law enforcement officials to polling stations around the country. The intent was to protect against voter fraud in the upcoming November 2020 election. In his interview with Sean Hannity of Fox News the President said, “We’re going to have sheriffs, and we’re going to have law enforcement, and we’re going to have, hopefully, U.S. attorneys, and we’re going to have everybody and attorney generals.”
The idea floated by President Trump has its roots at a February 2020 conference in Orange County, CA sponsored by the Council for National Policy, a right – wing religious group. Other groups in attendance at the meeting, such as the group True the Vote, have advocated for more voting restrictions and for aggressively challenging a voter’s credentials at the polls.
Despite the President’s announcement, no plan or details have been revealed thus far to implement the President’s proposal. LEARN MORE
Policy Analysis: The President’s announcement was met with widespread disapproval. Dale Ho of the American Civil Liberties Union’s (ACLU) Voting Rights Project dismissed President Trump’s suggestion by saying the President neither had the power to order a local sheriff to do something nor had the power to send federal forces into polling places. Wendy Weiser, Director of the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center for Justice cleverly pointed out that a number of states and local jurisdictions have laws against law enforcement officers being in polling places. A number of state Secretaries of State pushed back on Trump with Colorado Secretary of State Jena Griswold calling the proposal “voter intimidation” reminiscent of “tactics used against Black voters in the Jim Crow South.” The common themes that could be found in the pushback against the President are of a President trying to exert non – existent powers and an attempt to intimidate potential voters and suppress the vote.
While comparing President Trump’s proposal to old Jim Crow tactics is a useful analogy an incident from New Jersey in 1981 best illustrates why armed law enforcement officers at polling booths is easily one of the worst ideas. That year the Republican National Committee (RNC) decided to create the National Ballot Security Task Force. The RNC hired two hundred (200) off – duty police officers and private security officers to maintain a presence at polling booths while carrying visible firearms and walkie – talkies. They also wore armbands with the name “Task Force.” The members of the group were deployed to polling booths in predominately Black and Latino neighborhoods in New Jersey during a heated election for Governor that year. On Election Day, members of this group tried to intimidate voters by asking for voter registration cards from Blacks. They also chased many Latinos away from the polls. Eventually, the RNC was sued which resulted in a consent decree where the RNC agreed to not engage in poll watching without prior court approval. That consent decree was in effect for nearly four decades before it expired in 2018. What that incident in New Jersey showed was that poll monitors employed by the RNC were nothing more than a way to intimidate voters of color from voting. Now, with President Trump suggesting that armed law enforcement officers be stationed at polling booths, it is clear that the Republicans might again be on the verge of trying to intimidate voters, specifically voters of color, with agents visibly displaying weapons. While that consent decree was helpful in reigning in Republican voter suppression tactics it can no longer be relied on since it has expired. What is needed now is a concerted effort to employ all local, state and federal laws that prohibit law enforcement officers from polling booths. There also is a need for a campaign to inform and warn the citizenry that President Trump’s proposal is not a proposal for election integrity but nothing more than a discredited old tactic used by racists from the Jim Crow era. The United States of America does not need an armed law enforcement presence to conduct a national election. LEARN MORE, LEARN MORE, LEARN MORE
- American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) – infopage on the group’s Voting Rights Project.
- Brennan Center for Justice – infopage for group’s voting rights efforts.
This brief was compiled by Rod Maggay. If you have comments or want to add the name of your organization to this brief, please contact Rod@USResistnews.org.