For months, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump and some of his surrogates having been telling voters that the election is "rigged" against him. He's called on supporters to "watch" polling places in certain areas. Last month, he told an audience that once they've voted, they should go to a polling place in another area and "sit there with your friends and make sure it's on the up and up."
"Racial Profiling" and Looking for "People Who Can't Speak American"
Although Trump has been rather vague about what to watch for, at least one Ohio Trump supporter says he knows what he'll be looking for: "[I]t's called racial profiling. Mexicans. Syrians. People who can't speak American." He adds, "I'm not going to do anything illegal. I'm going to make them a little bit nervous."
Talk like that already has a lot of people nervous. This is particularly true in places that, as one attorney with the NAACP Legal Defense Fund notes, have "a history of voter intimidation and also very liberal gun laws."
The federal government has less legal authority to monitor polling places than it used to under the Voting Rights Act, thanks to a 2013 Supreme Court decision. Therefore, civil rights groups like the NAACP are stepping up to try to prevent voter intimidation and worse as people go to the polls.
When Are Guns at Polling Places Considered Voter Intimidation?
There's no specific mention in federal law about the ability to bring a legally-owned weapon to a polling place. Some states have their own laws regarding weapons near polling places. Georgia, for example, bans firearms within 150 feet of a site. Guns are banned at some polling places because they're located in gun-free zones such as schools or courthouses.
In some open-carry states, the laws around weapons at polling places and whether they constitute intimidation are vague. Voting rights advocates have argued that just seeing someone with a weapon can be intimidating. A lawyer with a public policy and law institute says that in most states, poll workers can step in if they believe that someone carrying a weapon is intimidating voters or disrupting the election, even if the person is allowed to carry the weapon under state law.
People who believe they're victims of voter intimidation should tell an election official at the site. They should also notify their local state elections office. Voting rights attorneys can also work to help prevent future voter intimidation.
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