The European Union is sending almost 500 experienced election observers to watch the U.S. election in 10 states in particular. One of the world's leading humanitarian organizations, the OSCE (Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe) has increased the size of its usual delegation due to very unusual circumstances.
In June 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court effectively struck down the 1965 Voting Rights Act. Since then, "At least 14 states have new restrictions in place this year," Alice Speri writes in The Intercept,"including voter ID laws, changes in registration requirements, and cuts to early voting options. In Maricopa County, the largest county in Arizona, officials closed 70 percent of the polling sites, causing long delays during the primaries and prompting a DOJ investigation. In Florida and Ohio, officials tried to purge thousands of mostly black voters from their rolls."
To make matters worse, the Republican candidate has repeatedly complained that the elections are "rigged," urged his supporters to "monitor" polls, and refuses to say that he will honour the election results if he loses. In response to his charges, Trump supporter Roger Stone started StoptheSteal.org with online registration for volunteer "Vote Protectors."
“We are strong and are unified in the development of a uniformed exit poll that Vote Protectors will conduct at every polling place in America, to ensure continuous integrity throughout the democratic process..." says the Vote Protectors website. To many citizens, the idea of self-appointed "Vote Protectors" questioning people at the polls looks like a threatening activity -- although in theory exit polls are not the same as, say, voter challenges.
"The problem voter challenger systems supposedly address -- voter fraud -- is mostly illusory," according to the US Election Protection Coalition, a network of 100 civil rights lawyers and progressive groups across the US, offering 24-hour toll-free advice in four languages to respond to voter challenges and intimidation, along with other voter suppression tactics such as:
– deceptive practices (eg, misleading robocalls, ads telling Hillary voters they can text in their vote);
– threats of arrest if voters arrive at polling station with unpaid child support or unpaid parking tickets;
– voters' lists purges ("vote caging") based on tactics like dummy mail-outs to certain neighbourhoods to purge any names on envelopes that come back "not at this address;"
– "provisional" ballots given to certain voters, although they’re properly enrolled on the voters’ lists; and
– "challenges to African-American voters in Philadelphia by men carrying clipboards who drove a fleet of sedans with signs that looked like law enforcement insignia."
"As this map makes clear," according to the Brennan Center for Justice, “the states most likely to pass new voting restrictions were those with the highest African-American turnout in 2008, those with the highest Hispanic population growth between 2000 and 2010, and/or those formerly covered under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act.
"- Of the 11 states with the highest African-American turnout in 2008, 6 have new restrictions in place. North Carolina also fits this category, but its law is currently blocked for the 2016 election.
- Of the 12 states with the largest Hispanic population growth between 2000 and 2010, 7 passed laws making it harder to vote (again, North Carolina’s law is currently blocked).
– 9 out of the 15 jurisdictions previously covered in whole or in part by Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act have new restrictions in place. North Carolina also fits this category, but its law is currently blocked for the 2016 election.
– 4 states put restrictions in place directly after the Shelby County decision: Alabama, Mississippi, North Carolina, and Texas...."
Unlike Election Protection, Trump supporters fervently believe in vote fraud, warns the Southern Poverty Law Center. American Nazi websites like the fading Stormfront and the active Daily Stormer are full of dire warnings that a Hillary victory would lead to civil war, or at least the "race war" that Nazis and white supremacists have been trying to foment since the Civil Rights Act forced them underground.
In an article dated October 20, SCLC notes that "Just last week in Kansas, three men were arrested after law enforcement uncovered a plot to surround an apartment complex with vehicle-laden improvised explosives. The building, which doubled as a mosque, was home to a number of Somali immigrants. They had planned their attack for Nov. 9. The day after Election Day."
National Public Radio reported on October 19 that Denver will provide "active shooter training" for all election judges. That is, they'll be trained in scenarios dealing with domestic terrorists.
"Poll workers across the country are on high alert after the recent firebombing of a Republican Party headquarters in North Carolina and reports that two armed men lingered for hours outside a Democratic campaign office in Virginia," said the NPR report. "Some feel that Donald Trump's claim that the election is rigged, and his suggestion that supporters and their friends go to polling places to 'watch,' are rhetorical time bombs."
However, some Americans still believe in democracy. The Brennan Center notes that, "In the run-up to the 2016 presidential election, the surge in attempts to make it harder to vote has been met by a pushback by courts, as many challengers fighting against these laws have secured victories softening or eliminating the restrictions." Among victories won by Election Protection and other civil rights lawyers, a North Carolina court struck down a voting caging challenge that would have eliminated a whole Black neighbourhood, and an Arizona court upheld "vote harvesting," where a voter or group collects absentee ballots for one candidate.
An Ohio court "barred political workers from a range of activities within 100 feet of a polling place and 10 feet of a line of voters. They include questioning, harassing, loitering, following, and photographing or recording prospective voters or those who are leaving polling places after voting." Similar laws apply in other states, such as Pennsylvania, where Roger Stone’s "vote protectors" activities are simply illegal.
Also good news: some observers think that Trump’s claim might backfire, that his supporters might stay away from the polls if they believe that the election is rigged. Indeed, a Hillary landslide would to some extent disarm dissident Republican voters, by showing what a minority they are.
Finally, the big news is that the Election Protection Coalition (866ourvote.org) could be an important intervenor for voters who are turned away or see it happening to others. They rely on complaints before they can swing into action, and they appreciate keen-eyed observers.
For example, here's one case from 2008: "Virginia called Election Protection and her local Board of Elections today because first time voters were being turned away from voting at the Horace Mann School in Warren, OH. Three precincts vote at the local school and instead of referring new voters to the right check-in table, election workers told new voters they weren't registered. Virginia is also concerned because of reports that senior citizens are not being given assistance in using the new machines and that the machines are freezing up when votes for Obama are entered."
Election Protection's coalition members include the American Civil Liberties Union, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, the United Steelworkers, the National Bar Association, the League of Women Voters, the Anti-Defamation League, the National Gay and Lesbian Law Union, the National Black Law Students, the SCLC, the AFL-CIO, and dozens of other large progressive organizations.
To be effective, though, Election Protection needs to get the word out. Please share this URL and poster with your US networks, especially people in battleground states like Florida, Ohio and Pennsyvania. Good luck on Tuesday!
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