Monday morning, just moments after the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice announced its monitoring locations for Election Day 2018, including Clark and Washoe Counties in Nevada, President Donald Trump sent out a tweet.
Law Enforcement has been strongly notified to watch closely for any ILLEGAL VOTING which may take place in Tuesday’s Election (or Early Voting). Anyone caught will be subject to the Maximum Criminal Penalties allowed by law. Thank you!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 5, 2018
“Law Enforcement has been strongly notified to watch closely for any ILLEGAL VOTING which may take place in Tuesday’s Election (or Early Voting). Anyone caught will be subject to the Maximum Criminal Penalties allowed by law. Thank you!”
It’s unclear whether any law enforcement agencies have actually been notified to watch for illegal voting, and if so, by whom. But with a history of unsubstantiated voter fraud claims under his belt, it’s likely Trump’s message on social media was intended to do two things — suppress voting by instilling fear among those wary of encounters with authorities, and send a message to his base that Trump remains intent on ferreting out attempts to vote by so-called “illegals.”
“The president should be encouraging people to vote rather than trying to scare them through his rhetoric not to trust the process,” says Tod Story, executive director of ACLU of Nevada. “Or if they are voting in a way other than he’d like, he alleges fraud.”
Trump lost the state to Hillary Clinton in 2016.
“To everyone who serves as a polling place monitor, it takes on added significance this cycle,” says Story. “He (Trump) claims he won the popular vote, if not for illegal voters. He formed a commission on voting fraud with Kris Kobach, who hasn’t missed an opportunity to disenfranchise voters.”
A commission formed by Trump in 2017 to examine fraud was disbanded for lack of evidence.
“Citizens of America control this country through their selection of their governmental officials at the ballot box,” Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in the DOJ’s news release announcing the 35 locations to be monitored throughout 19 states. “Likewise, fraud in the voting process will not be tolerated. Fraud also corrupts the integrity of the ballot.”
Trump’s Department of Justice will be keeping an eye on the polls in Washoe and Clark Counties on Election Day, a process Clark County spokesman Dan Kulin says is routine.
Kulin says federal election monitors arrive with a checklist of requirements with which the county routinely complies, such as providing voter information in Spanish and Tagalog.
Unlike trained election observers, who are dispatched by court order under the Voting Rights Act and are authorized to enter polling locations, election monitors are routinely sent to a variety of locations. They are prohibited from entering a polling place unless invited by local officials. But it’s a restriction of which local and state officials we spoke with are unaware.
“Anyone can observe a polling place in Nevada as long as they don’t talk to anyone or interfere,” says Wayne Thorley of the Secretary of State’s office
This year, according to the DOJ, trained observers are only being sent under court order to three “census areas” in Alaska, where Native American tribes are fighting for access to the ballot box.
In 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act in Shelby County v. Holder, severely limiting the government’s ability to install observers at polling places and making it easier for local governments to enact discriminatory laws.
“We’ve seen examples in Georgia,” says Story of the ACLU. “We haven’t seen anything in Nevada. I think voting will be made even more simple as we’ve seen with the significant increase of early voting turnout. I think that will continue tomorrow.”
“Donald Trump is always looking for some way to divide people. Even as contentious as voting can be, the one thing we can all do is show up and exercise our right, regardless of how we cast our ballot.”