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Voter intimidation: who is really to blame?

In this year’s American presidential election there was a record number of complaints at polling stations across the nation. The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, the biggest US nonpartisan civil rights group, published a map of the US showing issues at polling stations November 8th updated throughout the night which detailed the 5, 500 problems reported by 9:30AM Eastern time alone.

Each presidential candidate made warnings about the opposing campaign participating in voter fraud. Judge, Gloria J. Sturman did not grant an appeal made by the Donald Trump campaign related to claims of early voting fraud in a county with a high Latino population; the campaign went on to file a lawsuit against Clark County for keeping polls open two hours later than they had earlier specified.

This was the first presidential election to take place since the 2013 ruling on the Voting Rights Act by the U.S. Supreme Court. In the Shelby v Holder case the statutory right for poll monitors to be inside a polling place before an issue had been reported was eliminated. Federal poll monitors were reduced by about a third to only 500 monitors sent to 28 states. There were a number of problems related to poll monitors or ‘poll watchers’ starting early in the morning with reports of people claiming to be poll monitors who were unaffiliated with the federal government harassing people and refusing to leave Florida polling stations.

Trump made several pleas to his supporters to go to the polls and watch “certain places”. He later specified, “Watch Philedelphia. Watch St. Louis. Watch Chicago. Watch so many other places.” On multiple occasions he has expressed concerns that the election would be “rigged.”

While many Trump supporters demonstrated worry about the authenticity of the election, others worry about Trump supporters harassing minorities at the polls. The hashtag #illvotewith you developed to protect Muslim women in Ottawa, Canada after 2013 elections saw a concerning amount of verbal abuse at polling stations. The Pride Center for San Antonio even set up a hotline for transgender voters who could request accompaniment to the polls.

Transgender people have been an especially vulnerable group in this election. There is lots of confusion after 14 states having passed new voter restrictions for this election including an expansion of voter ID requirements. For transgender people whose presented gender does not match their ID, issues have arisen with identity confirmation, especially when the new laws remain unclear to poll place workers.

Later on the election day, more drama occurred in Nevada when the Democratic National Committee sued the Republican National Committee for illegal poll watching. There were a number of concerned on the night of the election with people standing near polling places across the country sporting signs supporting their party, many of which targeted minorities or lambasted Trump. There are many specific laws governing campaigning at polling places including hate crime laws and restrictions on how close people are able to stand to the site itself. On the internet, however, restrictions are not nearly so clear.

Online voter intimidation surfaced as a major issue this year for both parties. There were many instances of Trump supporters using the hashtag #veritasiseverywhere, claiming that bussing people into polling stations is illegal, that it is possible to vote by text or even promoting photoshopped images of immigration enforcement officers arresting people at polling places. The Mayor of Mansfield, Georgia even went so far as to tweet that republicans vote on 8/11 while democrats vote on 9/11. He was not the only one to promote a false election date. Many Hillary Clinton supporters made fun of a comment Trump made urging voters to get to the polls on November 28, urging Trump supporters to vote on a number of incorrect election dates.

The rise of online intimidation is a marked change from past infractions which have centred on voting restrictions, both legal and feigned and inaccessibility of polling places to minority or low income voters.

Image: Tom Arthur

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The Student Newspaper 2016