Georgia activists say they’re seeing increased interest this year from volunteers who want to monitor elections for possible voter intimidation. The new enthusiasm, they say, comes from Donald Trump’s recent calls for his supporters to watch polling places and ensure “cheating” doesn’t cost him the race.
“There is an increased concern about some of the rhetoric that’s happening around the election being rigged or stolen,” said Page Gleason, the executive director of ProGeorgia, a nonprofit group that advocates for progressive causes.
“There’s been broader interest from volunteers,” Gleason said, “usually it’s just the diehards out there who want to help out.”
Gleason said ProGeorgia has been monitoring elections for decades, but she’s more concerned about potential voter intimidation this year.
In early August, Trump told supporters in Pennsylvania the only way he’ll lose there is if “cheating goes on.”
“I hope you people can sort of not just vote on [Nov. 8], go around and look and watch other polling places, and make sure that it’s 100 percent fine,” Trump said.
“I think any sort of questioning of individual voters is intimidating,” said Gleason, “People accusing folks of not being citizens or questioning their citizenship as they’re walking into the poll location, I think, is intimidation.”
ProGeorgia is organizing training sessions beginning next week with a few new lessons.
“We’re gonna talk about deescalating, and then making sure law enforcement is aware, and what intimidation might look like, and how they can respond to it,” said Gleason.
Election monitoring by ProGeorgia, or associated groups, will be outside polling places. But political parties and campaigns for years have been allowed to observe polling places from inside.
The Trump campaign had no response to Gleason’s implication the Republican’s statements would inspire voter intimidation, but the campaign does plan to send official election observers to “high-turnout polling places.”
Voting rights groups are particularly focused this year, because there is less federal oversight than in the past. That’s because the Supreme Court in 2013 struck down a key part of the Voting Rights Act, and the Department of Justice says it “will be able to send fewer people than in similar past elections to watch the voting process in real-time.”
“We’re at a moment where we need great vigilance to ensure that all Americans are able to participate in our democratic process,” said Kristen Clarke, the president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under the Law. The organization will work with ProGeorgia and other groups around the country on Election Day to field legal questions, and provide in-the-moment representation.
“I don’t want to perpetuate to anybody having fear about this, but I want to be prepared, just in case,” said Gleason, “I hope that our presence there is a comfort to voters and not something that’s intimidating.”