The mission, officials said, is to capture photos and videos Republicans can use to support hitherto unfounded claims that postal voting is riddled with chicanery, and to help their case if legal disputes arise. burst on the results of the competition of November 3 between Republicans. Outgoing Trump and his Democratic opponent Joe Biden.
The campaign is already posting information on activities it claims to be suspicious, including a video of a Trump campaign observer fired from an early voting site in Philadelphia last month. The city says observers are welcome at polling stations on polling day, but are not allowed in early polling rooms.
Some voting rights activists fear such encounters will escalate in a tense year that has seen armed militias clash with protesters in the streets of the country.
The observation of polls by partisan observers is a normal feature of elections in the United States dating back to the 18th century and is subject to various state laws and local rules.
Still, this year’s operation by the Trump campaign is highly unusual, franchise advocates say, both with a focus on early voting and a focus on finding evidence to support them. baseless claims by the president and his supporters that Democrats plan to flood the system. fake ballots to steal the election.
In a recruiting video posted to Twitter in September seeking volunteers for this’ army for Trump ‘, the president’s son Donald Trump Jr. said baselessly that Democrats were planning to’ add millions of ballots fraudulent ”to fake the results. Trump has repeatedly refused to commit to accepting the November election result. During the presidential debate on September 29, he urged his supporters to “go to the polls and be very careful”.
Requests for a mail-in vote lean heavily towards Democrats in battlefield states, which likely means Biden will lead before the in-person vote begins on Election Day.
In Florida, where Republicans have historically relied on mail-in ballots, nearly 2.5 million Democrats have requested it, compared with an estimated 1.7 million Republicans. In Pennsylvania, more than 1.5 million Democrats have requested a postal vote, nearly triple the Republicans’ demands.
Republicans said they plan to monitor every step of postal voting, including setting up cameras to show people casting multiple ballots into ballot boxes. Some states allow third parties to cast ballots, but the practice is prohibited in others, including Pennsylvania.
Pat Dion, leader of the Republican Party in Bucks County in Pennsylvania, a politically divided suburb near Philadelphia, predicted the process could get complicated.
“There are going to be a lot of observers, a lot of cameras and a lot of lawyers across the country. It’s going to be chaotic, ”said Dion, who said he supported the effort nonetheless.
Democrats and franchise advocates say Trump is trying to suppress the vote, not protect it.
“This is an attempt to scare eligible Americans into believing that they are in danger if they are going to vote,” said Myrna Perez, director of voting rights and elections for the Brennan Center, a group of non-partisan voting rights.
Democrats say Trump’s team is also laying the groundwork for challenging the sending of ballots in the event of a loss, possibly throwing the election to Congress or the courts to decide the outcome.
Trump campaign spokeswoman Thea McDonald said in a statement that “President Trump’s volunteer observers will be trained to ensure that all rules are applied equally. And if faults are whistled, the Trump campaign will go to court to enforce the laws. “
‘Make our Republican presence known’
This is the first presidential election in nearly 40 years that the Republican National Committee is free to sponsor such “ballot security” operations without permission from a federal court. A 1982 consent decree restricted such activities after the party sent teams of men carrying guns to minority neighborhoods in an election in New Jersey, wearing uniforms saying “Task Force on. ballot security ”.
That consent decree expired in 2018, and a federal judge refused Democratic attempts to renew it.
In Wisconsin, a state Trump won by less than a percentage point in 2016, volunteers will be posted to critical counties around Milwaukee, Republican Party Chairman Andrew Hitt told Reuters.
Pennsylvania is also fast becoming a hotbed of activity. Trump won it by just over 44,000 votes in 2016. He has virtually no way of securing a second term unless he again wins his 20 Electoral College votes in November.
In Montgomery County, a former Republican stronghold outside of Philadelphia that is now reliably Democrat, the Republican Party is hosting several virtual training sessions over the next two weeks for around 50 volunteers to monitor 11 proposed ballot boxes, according to one. email sent by the party to supporters and seen by Reuters. “It’s critical that we make our Republican presence known, so voters know they can’t get away with the fraud,” the email read.
On the west side of the state near Pittsburgh, Trump supporter Bob Howard has volunteered to watch polling stations where voters cast mail ballots.
“We have to make sure all the rules are followed, so people can trust the results,” said the 70-year-old retiree.
Democrats, meanwhile, are launching their own voter protection efforts. But theirs is a more traditional approach that includes registered observers and an army of lawyers.
In Pennsylvania, Biden’s campaign said it had launched the largest such democratic program in history, with more than a thousand lawyers and volunteers. He would not provide details on whether his monitors will be deployed to drop boxes and other early voting locations alongside their Republican rivals.
Election experts said the explosion in postal voting was testing voting laws designed around in-person voting. There are no rules for observers who attempt to enter early voting sites or challenge voters trying to cast their ballots, said Terry Madonna, professor of political science at Franklin & Marshall College in Pennsylvania.
“It all depends on the county election officials and what they agree can happen. It all seems to be heading into a major legal battle, ”Madonna said.
Clashes have already broken out in Philadelphia, home to about 20% of Pennsylvania’s registered Democrats.
Election administrators defended their decision to refuse campaign agent Trump who filmed himself attempting to enter an early voting site on September 29.
“To be clear: satellite offices are not polling stations and the Pennsylvania electoral code does not create the right for campaign representatives to” monitor “these places,” said Andrew Richman, chief of staff to the notary public. the city, in a statement.
The Trump campaign swiftly filed a complaint to gain access by poll observers to early voting sites. This trial is ongoing.
In Northampton County in northeastern Pennsylvania, the Republican Party attempted to have sheriff officers assigned to drop boxes to request the identification of voters who cast ballots, according to Frank DeVito, Republican member of the Elections Office.
Pennsylvania law does not require voters to show identification to vote. The Democrat-controlled Election Commission rejected the request.
Undeterred, DeVito said volunteers would be watching these boxes closely.
“We tell them to take a folding chair, take videos, take pictures,” he said.