With support from the University of Richmond

History News Network

History News Network puts current events into historical perspective. Subscribe to our newsletter for new perspectives on the ways history continues to resonate in the present. Explore our archive of thousands of original op-eds and curated stories from around the web. Join us to learn more about the past, now.

Trump’s Claim He’ll Send Sheriffs to Polling Places is Revealing in a Lot of Unintended Ways

“Are you going to have poll watchers?” Hannity asked his friend during an interview clearly aimed at pulling viewers away from simultaneous coverage of the Democratic convention. “Are you going to have an ability to monitor, to avoid fraud and cross check whether or not these are registered voters? Whether or not there’s been identification to know that it’s a real vote from a real American?”

“We’re going to have everything,” Trump replied. “We’re going to have sheriffs, and we’re going to have law enforcement, and we’re going to have hopefully, U.S. attorneys, and we’re going to have everybody, and attorney generals. But it’s very hard.”

This, understandably, raised eyebrows. The president would send law enforcement to police polling stations? It’s a scenario that seems analogous to elections conducted by Eastern European strongmen, not by an elected official in the United States.

There are a few things to keep in mind about this claim, though.

The first is that, like so many of Trump’s wild assertions, he has made it before. In August 2016, he gave a speech in Altoona, Pa., in which he pledged to combat what he presented as endemic fraud in the state.

“We have to call up law enforcement. And we have to have the sheriffs and the police chiefs and everybody watching,” he said then, later adding another familiar refrain, that “the only way they can beat [me] in my opinion — and I mean this 100 percent — is if in certain sections of the state they cheat, okay?”

When he made the claim at the time, though, there was a significant roadblock to the plan. The Republican Party had been restricted from dispatching poll watchers to precincts for more than 30 years, the result of a lawsuit filed by the Democrats in 1981. Why? Because the Republican National Committee was using “poll watchers” in an effort to intimidate non-White voters.

Here’s how the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit described what the party was doing:

The RNC allegedly created a voter challenge list by mailing sample ballots to individuals in precincts with a high percentage of racial or ethnic minority registered voters and, then, including individuals whose postcards were returned as undeliverable on a list of voters to challenge at the polls. The RNC also allegedly enlisted the help of off-duty sheriffs and police officers to intimidate voters by standing at polling places in minority precincts during voting with “National Ballot Security Task Force” armbands. Some of the officers allegedly wore firearms in a visible manner.

This is precisely the specter that Trump's comments raise.

Read entire article at Washington Post