News & Politics

Trump’s Claims About Poll-Watchers Prompt a Warning From DC’s Attorney General

Karl Racine tells you what you should watch out for.

Attorney General Karl Racine.

In response to President Trump’s statements about sending law enforcement or unauthorized poll watchers to the polls to look for potential voter fraud (despite studies that demonstrate voter fraud is almost nonexistent), last week, DC Attorney General Karl Racine issued an advisory about voter intimidation.

The Attorney General hasn’t heard any reports of potential voter intimidation in DC, but he says he issued the warning to clarify Trump’s “mischaracterizations” about poll watchers. If you’re planning on voting in-person, here’s what to watch out for when you’re casting your ballot. Early voting starts in DC on October 27.

What does voter intimidation look like?

Voter intimidation can mean many things, according to Racine. Any attempt to intentionally interfere with the voting process at the polls could be considered voter intimidation. Verbally harassing voters, blocking the entrance to a voting machine or polling place, or trying to mislead voters would constitute voter intimidation, according to both DC and federal law.

What isn’t voter intimidation, but is still against BOE regulations?

According to the DC Board of Elections, wearing political apparel (a Biden 2020 shirt, for example) is not allowed in the polls, and no campaigning is allowed within 50 feet of a polling place. Causing a disruption at a polling place is also not allowed, so voters shouldn’t say out loud how they voted or will vote.

What do you do if you see or experience voter intimidation?

The Attorney General has set up a hotline (202-442-9828) for voters to call to report voter intimidation. You can also email the AG’s office at consumer.protection@dc.gov. Even if you’re not sure if the conduct rises to the level of intimidation, the Attorney General encourages voters to contact his office anyway.

What does legal election observing look like?

Not just anyone can hang around and watch election proceedings. Legal poll watchers and election monitors must be approved by the DC Board of Elections to observe at polling places. Permitted election observers have to follow a strict set of rules: Most important: In DC, they are not allowed to speak to voters.

Will law enforcement or the military be at the polls?

No. According to the advisory, federal law prohibits the military or federal law enforcement from being at a polling place, unless it is to repel “armed enemies of the United States.” Further, local government employees—including law enforcement—are not allowed to interfere with a federal election. As such, there should not be any law enforcement at the polling places.

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