18 Unites States Code §594: Intimidation of voters
Whoever intimidates, threatens, coerces, or attempts to intimidate, threaten, or coerce, any other person for the purpose of interfering with the right of such other person to vote or to vote as he may choose, or of causing such other person to vote for, or not to vote for, any candidate for the office of President, Vice President, Presidential elector, Member of the Senate, Member of the House of Representatives, Delegate from the District of Columbia, or Resident Commissioner, at any election held solely or in part for the purpose of electing such candidate, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than one year, or both.
When I was 9 years old, I was playing a board game with some other kids in my neighborhood. I lost, something I could not stand to do. I lost to a girl, which made it even worse. (I had the typical 1950s-9-year-old-Midwestern-boy mentality when it came to girls.) I blew up. I screamed at her that she was a cheater. I even called her a b_____.
I’ve grown a bit in 56 years. I’ve learned to handle failure, accept defeat with grace, take responsibility for my mistakes, and even make something of it. My attitude towards women has matured significantly, as well.
The same, it appears, cannot be said for Donald John Trump, currently running for president on the Republican ticket. His childish temperament and misogyny are there for all to see, and they are helping drive him to do something even more reckless and perhaps dangerous. I refer to his loud, persistent claim that our national election is “rigged” and that his supporters should go watch voters at polling places.
As with many other outrageous, offensive, and often untrue things Mr. Trump has said in the past months, this is just an extreme extension of what has been a Republican electoral strategy for many years: claiming rampant voter fraud and working to suppress the right to vote, particularly for minorities. You may not be aware of it, but the Republican National Committee has been operating under a consent decree for more than 30 years forbidding it from engaging in certain activities relating to voting, due to voter intimidation in the 1970s and 1980s.
The Republican-majority Congress has refused to take up legislation to repair the 1965 Voting Rights Act in the wake of the Supreme Court’s 2013 decision in Shelby County v. Holder. After that decision, several states moved quickly to enact laws ostensibly aimed at combating voter fraud but actually designed to make it harder for non-white voters, who are presumed to vote Democratic, to exercise their franchise.
Alabama passed a voter ID law and then pulled license examiners from DMV offices in several majority-black counties. Alabama claimed it was a budget issue. A federal investigation ensued, and the examiners are back.
Texas enacted one of the harshest voter ID laws in the country even before Shelby County, one that would not accept several common forms of identification. The federal courts struck that down, and the state could be under federal oversight in the upcoming election.
The courts have struck down voter-suppression laws in other states, as well, but that hasn’t stopped the suppression movement. The cover story for all this has been that there is widespread vote fraud going on, a myth that has been debunked many times by researchers and the courts as well as by at least one prominent Republican election lawyer, Chris Ashby.
Trump has now upped the ante by urging his followers, after they vote, to go “watch other communities.” Trump’s people are responding. For example, a fellow named Steve Webb was quoted:
“I’ll look for . . . well, it’s called racial profiling. Mexicans. Syrians. People who can’t speak American,” he said. “I’m going to go right up behind them. I’ll do everything legally. I want to see if they are accountable. I’m not going to do anything illegal. I’m going to make them a little bit nervous.”
Actually, Mr. Webb, you are not doing everything “legally;” that’s voter intimidation.
I should also point out that 33 states have Republicans holding their Secretary of State’s office, and more than a few of those, such as in Ohio and Washington State, made it quite publicly clear that Trump’s comments were as insulting as they were false.
Stirring up conspiracy fantasies is a very old political trick that crosses the aisle. Joe McCarthy rose briefly to power using it, and even the Sanders campaign trotted out charges the primary process was rigged. Okay, that trick is going to be pulled from time to time, but to go from there to exhorting your supporters to hover around polls—that some might show up armed is not outside the realm of possibility—and threaten voters by their presence is beyond disgraceful, is fundamentally un-American, and quite possibly against federal law.