Fearing a “rigged” election, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump is recruiting volunteers to monitor polls on Election Day — prompting voting rights advocates to prepare for fallout and say the real estate mogul’s language already is bordering on voter intimidation.
In recent weeks, Mr. Trump has called on his supporters in the battleground states of Pennsylvania and Ohio to go beyond simply voting on Nov. 8. He is urging them also to be on the lookout for any funny business on Election Day.
A section added to his campaign website explains where people can get more information on how to be a “volunteer Trump Election Observer.”
“I hope you people can sort of not just vote on the 8th — go around and look and watch other polling places and make sure that it’s 100 percent fine,” Mr. Trump said at a rally in Pennsylvania this month. He said the only way he would lose the state to Democratic rival Hillary Clinton is if cheating occurs.
Democrats and Republicans increasingly are sparring over election rules. Democrats want the broadest turnout possible, and Republicans fear unqualified voters could swing an election against their candidate and want tight checks at the polls.
The battle is playing out in federal courts over state laws requiring voters to show IDs or prove their citizenship when registering, but Mr. Trump has gone a step further by asking folks to keep an eye open for shenanigans at the polls.
Witold J. Walczak, legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania, said groups like his aren’t allowed to be inside polling places, so he is not sure what is worrying Mr. Trump.
“I’m not sure he knows what he’s got in mind, but it has heightened our concerns and we will be hopefully recruiting more volunteers to be able to be our eyes and ears across the state on Election Day,” Mr. Walczak said.
One civil rights group has asked the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe to step up its plans for Election Day monitoring in the U.S. The group listed Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Alabama, Georgia, Arizona, Wisconsin, North Dakota and Texas as states where watchers are needed.
The OSCE has informed the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, which asked for the increased monitoring, that it already has sent a delegation to the U.S. to prepare for the election, and decided some 100 long-term observers are needed to follow operations at the state level and 400 short-term observers should be on hand to monitor polling places on Election Day.
Mr. Trump has singled out federal court rulings striking down voter ID laws when he frets over “rigged” elections.
“The whole thing with voter ID, identification I mean, people are going to walk in — they’re going to vote 10 times, maybe — who knows?” Mr. Trump said on Fox News this month.
Logan Churchwell, a spokesman for True the Vote, a group that has advocated for such laws, said Mr. Trump has valid concerns.
“Trump is right to say, ‘Look, things are changing, lawsuits are being resolved’ — because they are,” he said. “And as a result of that, his underlying message is, ‘If you’re worried about this like I am, then I need your help working at the polls.’”
Democratic vice presidential nominee Tim Kaine, though, criticized the push for voter ID laws as antithetical to American voting.
“For anybody who cares about small ‘d’ democracy, the efforts of state officials to put burdens in the way, reduce participation and do it in a discriminatory way has to call us to righteous action, righteous organization so that we can show those tactics won’t succeed,” Mr. Kaine said.
Mr. Walczak said Mr. Trump’s rhetoric could end up having far-reaching consequences.
“Questioning the integrity of an election is extremely dangerous,” he said.