By Karen Juanita Carrillo
Across the country, Republican Party candidates have been pushing for poll watchers—self-deputized ‘election integrity’ enforcers—to be in attendance while people are voting during this year’s midterm elections.
After former President Trump lost the 2020 presidential election, various GOP associates have helped promote the passage of state level anti-voter bills designed to help suppress the vote. It’s all based on Trump’s “big lie” that he is actually, to this day, the legitimate president of the United States, because—he has claimed—voting machines, owned by Dominion Voting Systems, were rigged to take votes that had been cast for him, and give them to Joseph Biden.
There are now reports of people showing up at early voting sites and drop boxes and intimidating voters. In Arizona two masked men, wearing tactical gear, positioned themselves near a ballot drop box in the city of Mesa and more drop box watchers showed up in downtown Phoenix. Even though the vigilante poll watchers left after police arrived, their intimidation tactics have been reported. Television station ABC15 Arizona showed that one voter complained to the Arizona secretary of state’s office, “There’s a group of people hanging out near the ballot dropbox filming and photographing my wife and I as we approached the dropbox and accusing us of being a mule. They took a photographs [sic] of our license plate and of us and then followed us out the parking lot in one of their cars continuing to film.”
Florida saw Gov. Ron DeSantis send out representatives from his Office of Election Crimes and Security to arrest 20 people in August. The Tampa Bay Times recently posted footage of some of the arrests which turned out to be of ex-convict voters who, reports note, had been sent voter registration cards and assured by state officials that they had the right to vote. Pointedly, 15 of the 20 people arrested are people of African descent. Florida state Sen. Bobby Powell told The Palm Beach Post: “It was always obvious that this [Office of Election Crimes and Security] would be used to target and strike fear in Black voters, and this is coming to fruition.”
Some county election sites in New Jersey want to have law enforcement officials present at polling sites and they want ballot drop boxes placed near local police stations. Even though New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy banned an earlier attempt to pass a bill like this, lawmakers say this legislation is designed to protect voters from potential violent acts. The proposed Bill S2912 “permits police officers to be present at public school or senior residential center being used as a polling place under certain circumstances.”
Voting rights advocates say stationing police at election sites would have a chilling effect. “Police at polling places could reduce the likelihood of voting by 32% for Black people,” Ron Pierce, a policy analyst with the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice, recently testified to the state assembly. “This is the opposite of what we should be doing. New Jersey has fashioned itself as a beacon for democracy. And now, without good reason, incident, or science that it will create a safer polling place, you are rolling back a key law against police intimidation, intentional or not.”
In Georgia, Early Voting turnout is coming close to surpassing the number of voters who turned out for the 2020 presidential elections. Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger is praising the number of people choosing to vote early, “Georgia has had record Early Voting turnout since the first day of Early Voting this year, surging to nearly twice the number on the first day of Early Voting in 2018,” the secretary of state’s office said in a press release. “Totals have remained within striking distance of the 2020 presidential election turnout and have shattered previous midterm turnout records by 50% or greater during every day of Early Voting this week.”
But voting advocates are pointing out that one central reason Early Voting can help is because it can make it easier for voters to beat back any challenges brought under Georgia’s new Election Integrity Act, which allows anyone to challenge a voter’s eligibility. If you go to vote in Georgia and are challenged, you can at least file a provisional ballot, while your eligibility is being challenged. Fair Fight, the voting rights organization founded by current gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams, pointed to several problems with the Election Integrity Act, with the first three being:
“1. Mass Challenges: Codifies that a single person can challenge the voter registration of an unlimited # of voters at once, resulting in that voter being purged. (lines 575-576)
“2. Mass Challenges: Codifies that a single person can challenge the rights of an unlimited # of voters to cast their ballot in the upcoming election. 364k Georgians were frivolously challenged in the runoffs. In just 29 counties, 15,000 Black voters, 2,000 Hispanic voters, and 1500 AAPI voters were challenged. (lines 622-623)
“3. Mass Challenges: Mandates counties hold mass challenge hearings that challenged voter must show up to—within 10 days of frivolous challenge. (line 581)”
President Joe Biden termed the Election Integrity Act, “Jim Crow 2.0.” Biden said in January, “Jim Crow 2.0 is about two insidious things: voter suppression and election subversion. It’s no longer about who gets to vote; it’s about making it harder to vote. It’s about who gets to count the vote and whether your vote counts at all.”
Anyone who feels intimidated while trying to cast a vote this midterm is encouraged to try to photograph the situation with a cell phone, notify a poll worker of the intimidation witnessed, and reach out to the following organizations for help.
- Election Protection Coalition hotline: 866-OUR-VOTE.
- Justice Department Voting Rights hotline: 800-253-3931
- Justice Department Civil Rights Division email: firstname.lastname@example.org