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Politics 2020 election: State officials brace for conflict after Trump tells supporters to 'go into the polls and watch'

01:30  02 october  2020
01:30  02 october  2020 Source:   cnn.com

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Mr Trump was asked if he would encourage his supporters to be peaceful if results of the election were unclear. "I'm encouraging my supporters to go into the polls and watch As is normal after a presidential debate, both the Trump and Biden camps have been claiming victory for their candidate.

State and local officials across the country are scrambling to respond to the potential for voter intimidation and violence on Election Day in the wake of President Donald Trump's calls during Tuesday's debate for his supporters to "go into the polls."

a man holding a sign: STAMFORD, CONNECTICUT - AUGUST 11: A woman drops her Connecticut 2020 presidential primary ballot at a secure ballot drop box at a Stamford library on August 11, 2020 in Stamford, Connecticut. Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, Connecticut Governor Ned Lamont signed an executive order allowing all registered voters to vote absentee in the August 11, 2020 primary. Connecticut has also experienced fallout from the recent tropical storm, which knocked out power to half of the state at its peak. President Trump has been critical of the absentee ballot process saying it contributes to voter fraud. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images) © Spencer Platt/Getty Images STAMFORD, CONNECTICUT - AUGUST 11: A woman drops her Connecticut 2020 presidential primary ballot at a secure ballot drop box at a Stamford library on August 11, 2020 in Stamford, Connecticut. Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, Connecticut Governor Ned Lamont signed an executive order allowing all registered voters to vote absentee in the August 11, 2020 primary. Connecticut has also experienced fallout from the recent tropical storm, which knocked out power to half of the state at its peak. President Trump has been critical of the absentee ballot process saying it contributes to voter fraud. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Trump's comments have energized far-right groups and sparked new warnings from state election officials about the potential for voter intimidation and conflict that could create chaos on Election Day. It's one more factor threatening to disrupt an election that Trump has been claiming for months -- without evidence -- will be fraudulent if he is not declared the winner.

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Mr Trump questioned Mr Biden's intelligence and Mr Biden called President Trump a clown, telling him to be quiet and saying: "Will you shut up, man?" During the debate, moderator Chris Wallace asked whether the president would condemn white supremacists and tell them to stand down during protests.

Trump called for supporters to watch the polls on the debate stage and specifically singled out Philadelphia, claiming that poll watchers in Philadelphia were “thrown out” and “weren’t allowed to watch ” Tuesday because “bad things happen in Philadelphia, bad things.” In actuality, the Inquirer

"I'm urging my supporters to go into the polls and watch very carefully, because that's what has to happen. I am urging them to do it," Trump said when asked if he would tell his supporters to stay calm and not engage in civil unrest around the election.

State officials are hitting back at the President over his remarks and engaging with local law enforcement and others who have authority to maintain order at voting locations to ensure they are prepared.

"Trump also told 'his supporters' to 'go into the polls and watch very carefully.' But he wasn't talking about poll watching. He was talking about voter intimidation," Nevada Attorney General Aaron Ford, a Democrat, tweeted. "FYI -- voter intimidation is illegal in Nevada. Believe me when I say it: You do it and you will be prosecuted."

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“During the debate, Trump appeared to tell the far-right paramilitary group the Proud Boys to ‘stand by’ and urged fans to ‘ go into the polls and watch very carefully’ for voter fraud, an exceedingly rare phenomenon Trump has crafted violence and meddling in the electoral process after Election Day.”

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Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey, also a Democrat, posted a video to Twitter on Wednesday evening saying the state would prosecute voter intimidation. "We're not going to let Donald Trump undermine our election," Healey said. "It's a crime to intimidate a voter or to obstruct the vote, to interfere with the election, and we will prosecute."

There are certain laws and safeguards in place surrounding how individuals and campaigns can be official poll watchers in most states. The rules vary by state, and many include official registration and how many people from each party can watch at a specific location. But experts warn that Trump's remarks will fuel issues with "unofficial" poll watchers -- people who show up outside polling locations beyond the reach of those rules and intimidate voters.

Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon, another Democrat, told CNN on Thursday that Minnesota's laws limited poll watchers to one per campaign, but he was concerned that more people would nevertheless arrive to try to observe on Election Day.

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US President Donald Trump called on his supporters to come to the polls to ensure that the vote is fair. Trump spoke on Tuesday night at the first TV When asked whether he would count on the Supreme Court to determine the outcome of the election if necessary, Trump accepted the opportunity.

"I'm more worried about what happens outside the polling place to those disappointed supporters of any candidate who show up thinking they're going to be allowed access and finding out they won't be," Simon said.

Election officials across the country have begun preparing for the worst by getting in contact with local law enforcement and others with authority to maintain order, said David Becker, the executive director of the Center for Election Innovation & Research.

"I'm very concerned that armies of poll watchers might interfere with the election, they might not be adequately trained or they could be viewed as intimidating," Becker told CNN. "Election officials are having to think about these things more than ever."

Inside polling places, some states limit the number of observers per campaign, but in other states, anyone can watch. In Wisconsin, for instance, anyone can be an election observer so long as they sign in, stay in a "designated observer area" and do not create a disturbance, said Reid Magney, a spokesman for the Wisconsin Elections Commission.

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"The guiding principle is that activities of election observers cannot cause disturbance at the polling place," Magney said. "The observers can't be up in everyone's business or interfering. If an observer has some information about the voter's qualification, like the person is a convicted felon, they can say, 'I want to challenge this voter.' But they have to have personal knowledge."

The Trump campaign defended the President's remarks in a statement to CNN.

"Poll watchers are critical to ensuring the fairness of any election, and President Trump's volunteer poll watchers will be trained to ensure all rules are applied equally, all valid ballots are counted, and all Democrat rule breaking is called out," campaign spokeswoman Thea McDonald said.

"If fouls are called, the Trump Campaign will go to court to enforce the laws, as rightfully written by state legislatures, to protect every voter's right to vote," McDonald added. "President Trump and his team will be ready to make sure polls are run correctly, securely, and transparently as we work to deliver the free and fair election Americans deserve."


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Confusion at polling sites

Confusion around poll watching and voter intimidation has already started as states begin early voting. On Tuesday, at least one Trump supporter trying to observe an early voting location was turned away from a satellite office in Philadelphia. Trump falsely claimed it was an example of corruption on Twitter and at the debate.

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"She wanted to go inside the facility and monitor the voting, and tried to video tape the volunteers when they told her she had to remain the same distance as the other poll watchers, outside," Julian Lutz, who was voting with his mom and witnessed the event, told CNN.

A Pennsylvania state attorney general official told CNN the office is actively engaged with identifying and stopping voter intimidation and interference, and discussions are underway at the local and state level about poll worker voter intimidation.

Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney told The Philadelphia Inquirer the city was making preparations for Election Day in response to Trump's call for his supporters to go to the polls.

"Based on his comments, we're going to be making an inter-agency plan for that day," Kenney said.

Last month, a group of Trump supporters showed up outside a polling location in a Democratic Virginia suburb, waving Trump campaign flags and shouting, "Four more years." Some voters and election workers indicated they felt intimidated by the episode. Due to the pandemic, voters had been lining up outside, but the disturbance forced extra space to be opened up in the Fairfax County Government Center and brought uncomfortable voters inside to wait. At least one voter also asked to be escorted out past the group.

Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring said in a statement that Trump's comments were "blatantly urging his supporters to congregate at polling places, go inside, and ostensibly harass and intimidate voters."

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"While there are authorized 'poll watchers' who monitor polls on Election Day, their duties are clearly laid out, and they do not include what President Trump has suggested. Voter harassment and intimidation will not be tolerated in Virginia," said Herring, a Democrat.

Election officials and experts are bracing for more direct confrontations, and even potentially violence. Since the debate, White nationalist groups and far-right activists have applauded Trump's debate call for action and his response that the far-right group the Proud Boys should "stand back and stand by."

"I got shivers. I still have shivers. He is telling the people to stand by. As in: Get ready for war," White supremacist Andrew Anglin posted on his neo-Nazi website Wednesday. Anglin, who has run a site notorious for noxious neo-Nazi content, left the US during a lawsuit won by a Jewish woman targeted with death threats and vile anti-Semitic and sexist slurs by Anglin's followers at his urging.

'Join the army for Trump's election security operation'

The Trump campaign is also working to drive its supporters to watch the polls on Election Day. Behind the scenes, the campaign and the Republican National Committee have been recruiting poll workers for months. RNC officials have said that enlisting poll watchers is a "huge" part of their Election Day operations, as they aim to dispatch tens of thousands of election monitors across the country, in what Republican officials have said could be their largest poll-watching operation.

In the swing state of Pennsylvania, the mission to recruit poll watchers is front and center, with Facebook ads paid for by local Republican chapters directing Trump supporters to a Trump campaign website, "Army for Trump."

The rhetoric around poll watching often uses inflammatory and militant language.

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"We need every able-bodied man, woman to join the army for Trump's election security operation at defendyourballot.com," the President's son Donald Trump Jr. said in a video.

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Another ad paid for by the Philadelphia Republican City Committee encourages supporters to "fight back" against Democrats. "You've seen the news. You've seen how the Democrats are trying to tip the scales. Now it's time to FIGHT BACK," the ad says.

Democrats and voter groups say the possibility of violence is real.

"The risk of violence is even more prominent in this moment because we have seen escalations of violence across the country over the last six months," said Tammy Patrick, a senior adviser at the nonpartisan Democracy Fund, which focuses on election integrity. "Election officials are aware of this. They have protocols in place for securing the polling place and training of poll workers in this moment."

Patrick said that states have rules governing conduct at polling places, but those rules have a physical limit on how far they extend beyond the polls themselves.

"Part of the issue also is that when you have individuals that are outside of a polling place electioneering for their candidate, that is perfectly legal in every state, as long as they're outside of the legal limit," Patrick said. "In some instances, that can be misconstrued as intimidation or, depending on what those individuals are saying or doing, it can be intimidation. And so there's going to be a perception issue here on both sides of the aisle, on what is acceptable and what isn't."

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"Oh, he loves his rallies. And the next time he holds one, look closely. Trump keeps his distance from anyone at a rally," Biden said in Wisconsin.Highlighting recent claims from a former White House pandemic adviser who alleged that Trump disparaged his followers, Biden accused the president of not caring about the working-class voters who form the foundation of his support.

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