(Washington, D.C.)- President Donald Trump’s directive to his supporters- encouraging them to go and watch the polls very closely on Election Day and recent threats to send law enforcement officials to polling sites, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and other experts issued a statement to make clear that voter intimidation and voter suppression efforts are illegal. Voters have the right to vote free from intimidation, and subject to protections under both federal and state laws.
“The Justice Department’s latest plans to launch an FBI-based Command Center to watch polling activity must be viewed with deep skepticism. These plans come on the heels of President Trump’s use of the debate stage to ominously warn that people will be watching voters on Election Day, language intended to intimidate and suppress voters,” said Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. “We condemn any attempt to activate armed federal law enforcement or federal prosecutors to monitor poll activity. If the FBI were truly concerned about protecting public safety, they would intensify their efforts to confront rising levels of white supremacist activity and other extremist groups. As history has shown, white supremacist and voter intimidation schemes are frequently targeted at Black voters and other communities of color and the administration should turn its efforts to confronting these threats.”
In 2018, a federal judge lifted a consent decree that required the Republican National Committee to obtain court approval for any “ballot security” program it intended to implement. This decree blocked the RNC from “engaging in activities to intimidate, threaten or coerce minority voters.”
“The right to vote is the cornerstone of our democracy,” said Kenneth Polite, former U.S. Attorney for Eastern District of Louisiana. “Every citizen has the right to vote without interference or discrimination. We call on the Department of Justice to protect the integrity of our election process, including utilizing federal criminal provisions to prosecute those who threaten physical violence in an effort to prevent the free exercise of this constitutional right.”
“Voter intimidation has a nasty, long history,” said Carol Anderson, a professor of African American Studies at Emory University. “It is rooted in the denial of citizenship rights, a narrowed vision of who can even be a citizen, and a willingness to use a series of tactics, from the careful placement of sheriffs and law enforcement at or near the polls in Black communities, to outright violence. Americans who believe in democracy must speak out and stand up against even the hint of this assault on voting rights and our citizens.”
“Another unfortunate layer of online communications aimed at voter suppression through violent rhetoric is the likely role that will be played by foreign powers who are more than happy to amplify, through propaganda, any extremist group message that causes Americans to doubt election results or fear the exercise of the key democratic power of voting,” said Frank Figliuzzi, former Assistant Director for Counterintelligence at the FBI.
The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law leads Election Protection, the nation’s largest and longest-running voter protection program. Voters are encouraged to report voter intimidation, threats, robocalls intended to discourage participation or any other activity that may interfere with the right to vote to the Election Protection program at 866-OUR-VOTE. Emergencies should be reported to 911.